Flood protection or overseas aid? A false choice

Help UK
Over the festive period, I saw the image on the right on a social media site, stating, against a backdrop of flooded housing:

It’s time to STOP sending money abroad and help people in the UK now. LIKE, COMMENT or SHARE if you agree?

A comment under the image mentioned:

…the 250 million we are giving to India to fund their Space Programme.

Oh dear. Where to start? Call me an old pedant, but I’m naturally suspicious of any entreaty which feels the need to include block capitals. But that’s just one of my little foibles.

My mind boggled at the idea that we are giving “250 million” to India to fund their Space Programme. It took just a quick Google to see where that came from. Our old friend the Daily Mail had a remarkably thoroughly, if one-sidedly, researched article on 15th February 2015 which was headlined as follows:

EXCLUSIVE: Lunar-cy! India gets enough cash in British aid to allow it to send a £250million rocket to the moon… even though government promised to stop it

Do you see what they did there? The first line of the article clarified this a little:

The UK is to give India another quarter of a billion pounds in aid by 2019 – the same amount New Delhi spent to launch its first mission to put a man on the moon.

Ah. So, the UK is not giving “250 million…to India to fund their Space Programme”. We are investing in projects in India, where the total outlay is roughly the same as the amount which India spends on their space programme.
It should be said that the Indian space programme produces benefits which help the fight against poverty, such as in predicting tumultuous weather events.

UK aid in India has gone towards helping the very poorest in society. The BBC’s Justin Rowlatt has an excellent report here which explains the great poverty in India and how British aid has helped fund projects with some of the most marginalised people in the entire country. He visits a community of Muslims and untouchables – Dalits – in Bihar, the poorest state in India:

We were ushered into a dim house off the tangle of streets that make up the small town of Biharsharif. Thirty women, many with babies and infants in tow, had gathered to meet us.
In one corner was a huge pile of dried cowpats – a store of fuel for cooking and to warm houses in the cold winter months.
The women are part of a community organisation – set up by a local NGO called the Poorest Areas Civil Society programme (PACS) – which receives funding from the British government.
The idea, says Arti Verma who runs the project, is to make sure these women – and millions like them across the country – access the money and services that are available to them from the Indian government.
“Basically we work with the communities from the marginalised background and we make them aware of their rights and entitlements related to health, education, livelihood,” she explained.
A key objective is to make sure they deliver their babies in hospital, giving both mother and baby a much better chance of survival. Until recently few did, anxious that because of caste or religion they might be discriminated against in hospital.

British support for India is now being phased over from “aid” to “technical assistance”, a point which the Mail fiercely disputes.

We can be extremely proud that the UK is sticking to its commitment to spend 0.7% of its GDP on international development projects. We are helping some of the poorest people in the world at the cost of about ten pence from an average taxpayer per day. We’re in the top three for transparency on what we spend abroad. The Independent has stated that:

In 20 years, the number of people living on less than £1 a day halved from 43% of the world’s population in 1990, to 21% in 2010. Add that to the 10m boys and girls who went to school last year because of UK aid, as well as the 48 million children immunised from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea…

It’s not beyond the wit of a sophisticated society such as the UK to be able to properly fund flood protection and give aid to the poorest in the world and do the myriad of other things the government does. It is in the finest traditions of the UK that we show generosity to the poorest communities in the world.

The government was warned back in November that flood protection was extremely vulnerable. We should not let the poorest people in the world suffer (more than they are) because of poor government planning with regard to flood prevention.


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