From what I’ve seen during this election campaign, there’s been a lot of rhetoric around our protected foreign aid budget. ‘0.7% of our GDP!’ politicians splutter, wild eyed. Even those pledging to protect it seem to find the concept hard to defend to the public. What I haven’t heard anyone say yet is that promoting development abroad means more stability for us, too.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying for a second there isn’t a moral, humanitarian duty to support people suffering beyond our borders. But there’s also an argument to be made to the more sceptical among us, who just see this money leaking across the channel, and falling down the drain. People are worried about immigrants flooding our country, of them pouring in from Africa and benefitting from our prosperity. The benefit of immigrants in the UK is a debate for another time, but for now let’s focus on why people are attracted to Britain.
Let’s be honest, it’s clearly not for the weather. Thousands of people aren’t drowning in the Mediterranean every year because they’re sick of the sun, and they’re not doing it because they’re looking for an adventure, either. They’re doing it because they want what we have: stability, safety, and some of the basic human rights that have been denied to them.
‘Well, that’s for them to sort out. It’s not our fault that their countries are oppressive’. Well, with the global society we live in (and the hangover from colonialism that’s still giving everyone a headache), that’s simply not true. And even if it’s not our fault, it’s still our problem. People are still going to risk their lives to get across the Med, if what’s going on in their own country is so intolerable that the risk of drowning seems like the better option. Helping countries to develop and become more stable will stop people from having to make this terrible choice, and decrease their apparent burden on our welfare state, too.
What politicians need to start saying is that, by supporting countries to develop, become more stable, and offer more opportunities to their people, the whole world becomes a safer place. According to studies by War Child, people who experience severe violence or conflict find it harder to forge healthy relationships, and run the risk of becoming more violent, dangerous individuals as they grow up. Nations across the world have experienced horrendous conflict over the last few decades, and even if that’s ended, they’re left without the infrastructure or means to rebuild and flourish. This results in poverty, resentment, and extremism, and we’ve all seen through the rise of movements like Boko Haram and ISIL how dangerous unstable states can be.
I’m not saying that the world’s problems are going to be solved instantly through foreign aid: there are all sorts of issues which need to be addressed, and not all of them are directly to do with money. But I am saying that foreign aid is an investment in ourselves and the future prosperity of our country, as much as it is a benefit to people overseas.
So to any politician who cares to read this: stop pandering to an outdated, racist rhetoric, and stand up for what’s right. Because it’s right for everyone, including the sceptics.
By Tabitha Stanmore, a member of the action/2015 youth network
For more information on the action/2015 campaign and youth click here. The action/2015 Youth Panel is co-facilitated by British Youth Council, BOND, Islamic Relief, Progressio and Restless Development and Y Care International.