The great charity robbery

It’s official.  With little time left to donate, Children in Need 2011 has raised a record breaking total of £26.3m; undoubtedly a worthy achievement.  The impact this money will have on some lives, families and organisations is immeasurable, although when compared with the UK foreign aid budget the money raised appears almost paltry in comparison.  Alarmingly, the impact of much of the UK’s 2011 £8bn foreign aid budget is measurable, often in terms of what it fails to achieve – a recent House of Commons report stated that with regards to British aid spending in Malawi, ‘evidence of the value for money of its spending… is hard to find.’  Even the United Nations has recently begun to question whether foreign aid is the best way to help countries.

Two of the biggest receivers of UK foreign aid are India and Pakistan.  In both countries severe poverty affects vast tracts of the population; although despite this both countries in 2011 were able to afford to research, build and maintain vast armies and large nuclear forces.  For example, Pakistan has just announced the purchase of two squadrons of J-10 fighters from China, at an estimated cost of $1.4bn.  Likewise, India has signed a $10.5bn fighter jet contract, allegedly one of the world’s largest on offer.

If India and Pakistan can afford to lavish money on capabilities which almost all Western donor nations have either cut or are considering cutting at a time of global economic uncertainty, how is it that they are unable to feed their own population and release millions from the clutches of desperate poverty?  Some respected academics such as the Zambian-born and Harvard-educated Dambisa Moyo have speculated that it is because there are often no caveats attached to foreign aid donations.  Often, these donations simply provide freely usable cash.

According to the hype that encourages the public to donate to Children in Need, many British charities owe their existence solely to the generosity of the public during the annual Children in Need money raising drive.  One of these charities is the Leeds Spiders Wheelchair Basketball Club whose aim is to promote inclusion in sport for disabled people in Yorkshire.  In an interview with the One Show, Paralympic basketball star and TV presenter Ade Adepitan discovered that were it not for Children in Need and the donations of the taxpaying public, the vital service that the Leeds Spiders provides to disabled people would have ceased to exist long ago. As of today, Leeds Spiders is a charity which receives virtually no public funding despite the tremendous work that they do.

The Air Ambulance. Often unknown by many that this vital service is totally reliant on charitable donations from members of the public.

Alas, it is not just the Leeds Spiders who do not receive public funding – there are countless numbers of other charities around the UK who provide a fantastic service to that are in need yet rely solely on public goodwill.  The British Heart Foundation, Marie Curie Cancer Care and regional Air Ambulances are just a few of the names that can be found on the high street, relying almost exclusively on public donations.  Such lack of support creates the question; instead of hosing down ungrateful and uncooperative foreign governments with increasing amounts of increasingly scarce cash, why does the UK not do more to help domestic charities?

In comparison, the £26.3m that Children in Need 2011 raised is a mere 2% of the £11.4bn the UK expects to donate annually as foreign aid in 2015.  There is even evidence that in some instances foreign aid harms countries more than it helps because it gives dictators a free, untraceable supply of money and therefore the means to remain in power and dominate their populations.  The same cannot be said for those British based charities lucky enough to receive donations from a well-intentioned public; even a charity which could be accused of ‘wasting’ money must still file their annual financial information with the Charity Commission so as to aid public trust and show transparency.

My point is this.  Whilst much of the mammoth UK foreign aid budget is designed to fund noble projects and eliminate severe poverty around the globe, why does the UK government instead choose to rely virtually solely on the generosity of the British public to pay to help people of Britain who are also in need of charitable help?  Why is Her Majesty’s Government unable to provide these charities with some of the capital they need to help domestic citizens?

After reading this article one could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that I am promoting the abolishment of foreign aid.  However, this assumption would be incorrect.  When used responsibly and fairly, UK foreign aid has the potential to help millions of people around the world.  Likewise, if a fraction of this money were to be used to help British charities in the UK, such aid would also have the potential to help millions of British people.

After all, in a rational world providing partial funding to an award winning Paralympic basketball team is surely fairer than funding the military expansion of a nuclear armed country…