LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Two English bishops, one Catholic and one Anglican, said people must turn away from “narrow self-interest” as a leading UK conservative pressure group has called for changing the way the country gives out foreign development aid.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance on March 18 sent out a proposal “to challenge the aid establishment and take back control of aid.”
The proposal, endorsed by the former secretary of state for international development Priti Patel, would scrutinize British aid to international organizations and tie development aid to the British national interest.
The report, First aid: Fixing international development, noted nearly 40 percent of the UK aid is currently channeled through multilateral bodies, such as the World Bank, European Union, and United Nations.
Britain has made a commitment to spend 0.7 percent of Gross National Income on international aid. Only Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, and Sweden spend more. The UK has met this target since 2013, and it was made legally binding in 2015.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has always opposed this target, and in the new report suggested it be interpreted more broadly so it is no longer tied to the fiscal year and annual budget. It has also called for other types of international aid – such as that used to combat piracy, fight drug trafficking and participate in UN peacekeeping – to be included as counting towards the international aid budget.
In a joint letter to the Guardian, the Catholic Bishop of Salford, John Arnold, and the Anglican Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, said the aid budget should not be viewed through the narrow prism of national interest.
“In the suffering of men, women and children caught up in conflict, dealing with the worst effects of climate change or leaving their homes in search of a safer future, we see the face of Jesus Christ,” the bishops wrote.
“In these moments, we must turn outwards, away from our own narrow self-interest. We put aside what Pope Francis calls the ‘globalization of indifference’ that leads to apathy and omission of our responsibilities towards others,” they continued.
The bishops said the British aid budget must always be “a demonstration of our concern, compassion and altruism.”
“We tire of being told what’s best for British interests; what is best for British interests is people around the world able to flourish in their own communities and an aid budget focused on that. Poverty is a scandal wherever it is found. The aid budget is one way we respond,” they wrote.
However, John O’Connell, the chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said the government has become “fixated” on the 0.7 percent target, and so “throws money at multilateral institutions.”
“Ministers need to bring the development rules in house, face down the international NGO cartels and address the real effectiveness of aid spending by signing off every penny. We hope that our proposals will be taken on board – by enthusiasts or skeptics alike – as it’s in everybody’s interests that our international aid program delivers for taxpayers,” he said.
O’Connell also said smaller UK charities “lose out, with most not even getting a look-in to the internationally-approved aid spenders list.”
In response to the TaxPayers’ Allance report, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) said it is shifting how it spends aid to ensure it is beneficial to everyone and fully aligned with the UK’s national interest. It also said the department is making it easier for small British charities and humanitarian organizations to access the aid budget.
“All our work aims to reduce extreme poverty and we are continuing to push for reform to get the most out of the aid budget for the world’s poorest and UK taxpayers,” the DFID said in a statement.
“Reducing poverty, hunger and providing clean water and sanitation is at the heart of what UK aid does, but our investment is also about tackling disease, terrorism and conflict, and creating a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for us all. This is a win for the developing world, but also a win for the UK,” the government department’s media office said.
The director of CAFOD, the overseas international development agency of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, said the TaxPayers’ Alliance report “misses the point” of the aid budget and “shows they don’t understand development.”
“Development is not always straightforward in a world of increasingly complex global issues like climate change, migration and tax avoidance, but with 700 million people still living in extreme poverty, now is not the time to weaken our solidarity with the world’s poorest people,” said Christine Allen.
“The UK public is rightly proud of our international aid record, which is respected for its focus on the poorest countries and for high standards of accountability. Those politicians seeking to use the aid budget solely for British interests rather than tackling poverty, should understand that our focus on the world’s poorest people gives us standing in the world but also it’s the right thing to do. The aid budget should not be used to play politics and ambitious politicians would do well to remember that,” she said.