UK unilaterally announces a ‘bilateral’ decision to end aid for South Africa’s poor
Oops! This morning Justine Greening, hapless International Development Secretary, announced that Britain and South Africa had agreed that direct British aid to South Africa’s poor and disempowered would end by 2015. Shortly afterwards, the South African international relations and co-operation department announced that it was news to them, and that it certainly wasn’t an agreement they were part of. There were moody warnings that this would affect UK-South African relations. I’m discussing with my opposite number in South African trade union giant COSATU what to do about it.
It’s all about what in international aid terms is a pretty small sum of money – £19m a year out of a DFID budget set this year to rise above £10bn. And the UK will continue to fund multilateral institutions which are working on issues like HIV/AIDS in South Africa. But it demonstrates yet again that Greening is heading in the wrong direction on international development, and throws into sharp relief the way the UK Government currently sees international aid as a one-way street rather than about solidarity and partnership.
Truth be told, South Africa is probably less concerned about the loss of the funding, being rather crosser about the diplomatic implications. But for us, Greening’s decision is part of a general approach to what are described as middle-income countries – the same approach which underpinned DFID’s decisions to pull out of China and India. UK aid is being concentrated on the poorest countries, although in a world where most of the poorest people actually live in middle-income countries, that logic is questionable.
The TUC has argued for years that international development should be about poor people rather than poor countries, and that promoting Decent Work and tackling inequality is vital, especially in the middle-income countries where inequality is often greatest (which also means that aid volume is not necessarily the best way to measure how well you’re tackling the key issues.) This is not always the view of the professional development charities, as this Guardian story indicates, and the last Labour Government was also moving towards concentrating on the poorest countries rather than the ones where most could be done or most poor people lived (although Greening’s shadow, Ivan Lewis, has grasped that this trend needs to be reassessed, and social justice prioritised.)
South Africa has been considered a developing rather than less-developed country for many years, but life expectancy dropped from 61 years in 1993 to 53 years in 2011, and it is a country with huge inequalities (Gini coefficient 63.1 in 2009). So Greening’s unilateral decision to cut aid is hardly a step forward for development.