Right wing governments are cutting overseas aid budgets
Since the G8 Gleneagles summit in 2005 – the year of Make Poverty History – there has been a consensus among UK politicians about the quantity of overseas aid. Certainly, both Labour and Conservatives have agreed to ring fence their commitment to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas aid. Labour is proposing putting that commitment in law, and has certainly led the Conservatives in making commitments on the issue (Labour put a timetable of 2013 on achieving the UN target in their 2005 manifesto) but the Conservatives’ commitment would be difficult to break – and it is a commitment that only applies in one other area – health – so it would stand out if they did: basically that and the health commitment are key elements of the ‘nice not nasty’ imagery that David Cameron’s leadership has tried so hard to promote. However, Labour will be keen in the coming election to stress that the last Conservative government actually cut overseas development assistance. And the behaviour of right of centre governments in Canada and Ireland suggests that spending on overseas aid in the new global climate is once again becoming a left-right issue.
In Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress (their TUC) has condemned “deep cuts … imposed on Canada’s international assistance programs” in their analysis of the latest Canadian Government Budget (March 2010). And the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, of which the CLC is a member, says that although the current Conservative Government will fulfill the previous Liberal Government’s 2002 commitment to double the 2001/2 aid budget by 2010/1 (up to 0.33% of GNI, so still not quite half the UN target), its budget projections for the next four years see aid then falling away to 0.28% by 2014/5!
And in Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is supporting a new coalition called “We Don’t Care Less” which is protesting at the Irish Government’s decision to cut the overseas aid budget by a massive 24% or €222 million. This is despite a promise by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2005 to reach the UN target by 2012. So Ireland is now moving away from the 2012 commitment, with aid being cut from 0.58% of GDP in 2008 to 0.48% in 2009.
This makes the Conservative policy genuinely distinctive among parties of the right. But with evidence that this policy is not that popular with sections of the grass roots, and growing pressure for tax cuts from groups such as the IoD this policy could well be a real test for the party leadership if they overcome their recent poll blips and get the chance to implement their manifesto.