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UK aid has huge impact in other countries: here’s how much

By Joe Powell
March 20th 2012

The build-up to the budget provides an annual boon for fact-free analysis and conjecture. The UK’s spending on aid does not escape this problem. Commentators arbitrarily suggest numbers for a more ‘reasonable’ aid budget without any consideration for the impact their proposed cuts would have.

For the first time ONE has analysed all of the UK’s bilateral and multilateral aid spending commitments and the results give an estimation of our aid will achieve.

It’s easy to get lost in the millions, but the overall picture is one of transformational change for some of the poorest people on the planet.

This is just some of what that report contains.

UK aid would:

  • Put 15.9 million children in school
  • Provide over 80 million children with vaccines against life-threatening diseases, saving an estimated 1.4 million lives
  • Help 44.9 million people participate in freer and fairer elections
  • Support over 40 million people with prevention or treatment for malaria, including distributing 26.6 million bed nets
  • Provide access to safe drinking water to over 17 million people
  • Help 77.6 million people access formal financial services, such as bank accounts or credit, which are the basics needed to start a business
  • Allow 5.8m births to take place in a safe environment, saving the lives of over 50,000 mothers
  • Provide 633,000 people with life-saving treatment for HIV
  • Ensure better nutrition for 9.6 million people

For people of all political persuasions this should be a wake-up call. There has been a recent tendency to characterise the UK’s aid spending as frivolous, economically inefficient and prone to corruption. Much of it has been driven by the debate over aid to India.

However, the reality is spending on aid delivers huge results for a relatively small amount of money – less than the UK population spends on edible food which is thrown away.

The job of aid should be to put itself out of business. That’s why focusing it on catalysing private sector growth is not something NGOs should be afraid of.

It’s also why it’s vital we close tax havens and tackle the illicit financial flows which have cost Africa hundreds of billions of pounds of their own resources.

Similarly we can improve the transparency and accountability of natural resource companies listed on our stock exchange – empowering civil society in Africa with the information they need to hold their leaders accountable for revenues coming from oil, gas and mining.

But for all that it remains too soon to begin winding down aid spending. The inconvenient truth is that there are countries where even if the entire budget was focused on health and education there would not be enough to cover the needs of every citizen.

While that remains the case we should be proud of the difference our taxes are making to the lives of people at the very bottom of global society.

The full report can be found here. You can join in the discussion on Twitter via the #bigdifference hashtag.

Joe Powell is the UK Policy and Advocacy Manager at ONE.

Originally published in Liberal Conspiracy

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