Overseas Aid – why can’t we do it better?

Something has been bothering me recently and has got me thinking about the phrase “help those that help themselves.” I was listening to an article on Radio 4 about the state of the Spanish Banking system. The experts were saying that the Spanish banks were doing less to support their local economy than that of the Bank of England. His reasons for them doing less were partly that they were tied by the fact that they were part of the Euro and partly because they were expecting Brussels to sort things out. This rang huge bells with me, only the other week I had been chatting to Steve about overseas aid. There’s another phrase that says “give a man a fish and he eats tonight, give a man a rod and he never has to ask for food again.” The same maxim as helping those that help themselves.

It seems a strange phenomenon but the more you give people the less they seem to do for themselves, what you are doing when you take control is quite literally that. You TAKE control. You take power away from the people / institutions that you are trying to help. In taking the power away people seem to give up and throw off responsibility for the situation.  There is an argument that says third world aid doesn’t work, the Overseas Development Agency has lots of oddities to it. For example we give aid to India. Initially this seems OK to me when I think about the level of poverty in India but then I remember that they have a Space programme. If the Indian government has enough money for a space programme, which is no cheap venture, then  they should scrap it and look after their own people first.

I am absolutely not against helping those in need. I am proud that we are able to help countries that are struggling. Those that have had regions wiped out by natural disasters but I start to get twitchy when I see us sending money to countries that are in a state of constant war, or countries that have enough money but choose not to spend it on their own people.  If a country knows that every year it will receive X  amount from other countries, it is viewed as income not aid.  If the money was not forthcoming what would they do? I hate the thought that by withdrawing our money people would suffer but I would rather that we didn’t waste our money. 

The solution to me in these cases is trade rather than aid. Like it or loathe it a capitalistic infrastructure provides stability , if we were trading with countries in a fair manner we would give them back the means of production and the ability to make their own money.

Regrettably I think the same thing happens much closer to home with our benefits system. Again I need to say that I am wholly in favour of benefits, I am more than happy that my money helps out those that can’t help themselves, I would even be prepared to pay more because I hate to think of the elderly and the disabled struggling, of mothers unable to feed their children, all these people I want to help. I just don’t want to help those that choose not to work. Given that we have over 2 million unemployed I wonder what jobs  are found by all the foreigners that come over here to work? Of course there are good and genuine reasons why some people can’t work, what we need to do is make sure that we are not propping up those that find work a chore.

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