Overseas aid law: coalition’s broken pledge
So, the Queen’s Speech reiterated the Government’s commitment to raise overseas aid over the next year from 0.56% of Gross National Income (GNI) to the fifty-year old UN target of 0.7% – but the pledge in the Coalition Agreement and the Conservative Party’s 2010 manifesto to set that commitment in legislation remains unfulfilled. The proposal to legislate is deeply unpopular among right-wing Conservative MPs but was a key element of David Cameron’s attempt to detoxify the Conservative Party.
International development charities and the Shadow International Development Minister Ivan Lewis have tempered their criticisms, pending the delivery of the actual expenditure next year. But clearly, people in the sector are worried that the Government may renege on the deal. That would be a massive breach of faith, and it is difficult to imagine how the pious International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell could resist calls for his resignation. He would certainly have to develop a teflon-coated hide to avoid career-ending shame.
It may well be that the pledge will survive the increasing – and partly self-inflicted – pressures on public expenditure. And even if it does reach the promised level of aid, the Government could do harm enough simply by spending that money badly (for instance, on indiscriminate subsidies to the private sector). Successive Congresses have supported the 0.7% target and legislation. But we also want overseas aid to be promoting people’s rights, economic and social justice, and trade unionism, not just providing what some cynically call “more and better biscuits”.