In these difficult financial times it warms my heart to see that the dynamic duo of Tory politics, David Cameron and George Osborne, haven’t lost sight of what Britain’s public spending priorities should be for our ever decreasing tax yield – I’m talking, of course, about overseas aid!
Because of the dire economic state the country is in the boy wonder Chancellor has been forced to wield his mighty axe to cut just about every area of government spending. The police budget has been cut by 20%; the armed forces by 8%, higher education by 40%, sport by 30%. We’ve also seen cuts in public sector pensions, teachers, nurses, child benefit, welfare benefits. No-one has been spared. Well, almost no-one. The only area of public spending which has not been cut, apart from MP’s salaries and pensions, is overseas aid, which has been increased by 34.2%.
The UK currently pays 0.7% of our GDP – £11.5 billion a year – in overseas aid.
Of that £11.5 billion, 86% is paid directly to overseas aid projects by George Osborne. The other 14% is paid into the EU overseas aid agency fund.
I must admit that paying part of our overseas aid into the EU budget is a very clever ploy. From the EU’s perspective Britain is overseas so we get some of the money back in overseas aid. Let me give you an example. The EU overseas aid agency recently had the sum of £10 million to spend on an overseas aid project. There were three possible recipients, all very worthy causes. There was a proposed housing project for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians made homeless by the devastating earthquake. There was a proposed orphanage to be built in Zimbabwe for the thousands of children whose parents had died of AIDS. But after careful consideration the EU overseas aid agency decided to give the money to the worthiest cause of the three – the provision of global citizenship climate change awareness courses for 3 year old children in Devon.
There have been criticisms of our overseas aid budget. We can’t afford it, bleat idiots like Nigel Farage and UKIP, who have threatened to slash the budget. But what UKIP don’t realize is how overseas aid benefits our own citizens. To be honest neither do I but I’m sure Cameron and Osborne wouldn’t be paying it if it wasn’t in the nation’s interests. I’m equally sure that if you write to them they’ll reply, practically by return of post, setting out all the benefits to Britain of aid programmes like a payment of £47 million to Indonesia for them to develop a climate change programme.
India is the biggest recipient of British overseas aid, receiving £388 million a year to help them pay for their space programme – which they spent £1.3 billion on last year. I know £388 million seems like a lot of money, but when you consider that corrupt Indian government officials steal about £70 million of that every year, that brings the actual aid to the Indian Space programme down to only £318 million out of the £388 million UK taxpayers pay every year to India. What we are effectively paying for is approximately a quarter of the money India are spending to try and launch a rocket to Mars. Our £388 million annual contribution is roughly the tax yield of every working man and woman in Portsmouth – but I’m sure they’d all agree that it’s an exciting use of their hard earned tax money to help India put a man on Mars. As far as Portsmouth is concerned I’m sure they think it is money well spent!
I heard George Osborne being interviewed about overseas aid by that bully John Humphrys on the Today Programme last week.
“So George,” Humphrys was his usual belligerent self, “can we afford to increase our overseas aid budget by 34.2% to £11.5 billion a year?”
“Absolutely,” George replied, “the benefits of overseas aid to Britain and its taxpayers are incalculable.”
“So what are they?”
“I don’t know,” Osborne replied, “like I said they’re incalculable. It’s not possible to calculate them.”
“It’s a lot of money though George,” said Humphrys, “£11.5 billion is approximately every penny paid in income tax each year by every taxpayer in the cities of Brighton, Southampton, Newcastle, Plymouth, Nottingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Norwich and Ipswich combined.”
“That’s true,” Osborne replied, “the income tax paid annually by every taxpayer in those fifteen cities and towns would just about fund our annual overseas aid bill.”
“And do you think those people are happy with that?”
“They would be,” Osborne replied, “if they were aware of the type of projects their money is being spent on.”
“And what are they?”
“I’m not just talking about the big projects,” said Osborne, “like the £19 million paid to South Africa for President Zuma to upgrade his palace, we’ve also given Iceland £1 million to promote tourism in its national parks, given Barbados £1 million to train waiters at a luxury hotel resort and given Bangladesh £5 million to record its own version of Question Time.”
“Yet at the same time you’re slashing spending here in Britain.”
“I don’t think “slashing” is a fair description of the small and necessary cuts I’ve had to implement in public spending.”
“Small and necessary?” Humphrys scoffed. “You’ve cut Newcastle’s annual arts funding by 100%.”
“We needed to do that,” Osborne protested, “cutting Newcastle’s arts funding by 100% saved us £2 million, and that money was desperately needed elsewhere.”
“The people of Newcastle don’t see it like that,” said Humphrys, “they’re organizing massive demonstrations to try and force you to reverse your decision.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” Osborne replied, “we’ve already spent Newcastle’s £2 million arts funding on a more important project.”
“And what was that?”
“We gave Newcastle’s £2 million to Brazil, to set up a foundation to assist in the social integration of women who live in fishing communities.”
“That does sound like a worthy cause,” Humphrys was forced to concede, “but to continue funding the overseas aid bill at such a high level – doesn’t that mean we have to make other painful cuts at home?”
“Take Lewisham hospital for example,” Humphrys moved in for the kill, “you recently announced it faced closure with the cost of hundreds of jobs, most of them nurses, and its closure would mean locals now face a 50 mile round trip to the nearest hospital.”
“I know,” Osborne replied, “it was not only painful for the hospital employees and the local community, it was a very painful decision for me personally.”
“So why did you decide to close it?” Humphrys continued to press him.
“As Chancellor I have to make painful decisions,” Osborne replied, “the closure of Lewisham hospital will save the British taxpayers the £15 million a year it costs to run it.”
“But in the same week you announced the closure of the hospital,” Humphrys would not let up, “didn’t you spend £15 million in overseas aid on building a wind farm in Entebbe, Uganda?”
“It’s very sad that we have to close Lewisham hospital,” Osborne explained, “but once the 25,000 people who demonstrated against its closure realize what we’re going to spend the money on instead I’m sure they’ll understand. Surely nobody in Britain would argue against the proposition that closing a hospital in Lewisham is a small price to pay for building a wind farm in Uganda?”