The UK is right to keep giving aid to India and Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell is showing boldness in defending the policy. His statement comes on the day that Trevor Kavanagh’s column in The Sun argues that stopping UK aid to India “could have saved us slashing our own Armed Forces. Or keep hospitals open. Or soften the welfare cuts.”
The UK is set to spend just £280m per year in India and does so in the three poorest states. As I have argued before, it’s wrong to trade off bednets and body armour. It’s also wrong to blame aid to India for the closure of hospitals, when the government has ring-fenced the NHS budget in the same way as the aid budget. And the idea that Trevor Kavanagh should want to soften welfare cuts flies in the face of just about ever column he’s ever written. Besides, there is political consensus both on welfare reform—and the associated benefits cap—just as there is on reaching the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNI on overseas assistance by 2013.
It would have been far better for the government to keep its manifesto pledge on legislating for aid spending, but it is heartening to see ministers argue that they will not balance the books on the backs of the world’s poor.
Critics are right that India is a country which has growing wealth but it is also a country of great inequality and of incredible levels of unimaginable poverty. A third of the world’s poorest people (that is people living on less than $1.25 or 80p a day) live in India—more than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. If we are serious about meeting our international commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals, we must do our small part and not sit back waiting for the India government to redistribute the wealth that it is in everyone’s interest that their economy creates.
Of course, no aid programme is forever. With the right political leadership, strong policies and aid support, desperately poor states like Bihar have shown that they can grow and lift people out of grinding poverty. That is the point of international development and why DFID is a “development department” and not an “aid…