08 September 2010

Right now what does the UK public think about aid? And why?

The UK Public Opinion Monitor, tracking the opinions of a panel of 6000 UK residents on development issues, has just published its latest report based on data collected between June and August.

The Monitor, co-managed by IDS, finds that despite severe austerity measures and cuts to public services, 62 percent of respondents still think that it is morally right for the UK to help developing countries. But the majority of respondents (64 per cent) think that poverty at home is the priority at the moment. Over half (57 per cent) of respondents did not support the coalition government’s policy of ring-fencing aid spending.

The report also uncovers the drivers behind people’s attitudes on aid spending, including:

  • Aid wastage – 51 per cent of respondents thought that most UK aid to developing countries is wasted. Holding this view increased the likelihood of supporting cuts in aid spending by 15 per cent.
  • Age - Older people are 21 per cent more likely to propose reducing the aid budget than younger people. This was one of the most important factors.
  • Political standpoint - Conservative voters are 12 per cent more likely to support cutting the aid budget than Labour voters. Liberal Democrat voters are no more likely to support cuts than Labour voters.
So perceptions of wastage is an important driver of those who thought we should cut aid although the Monitor found that perceptions on corruption is not. The sensitivity of the cutters to wastage but not corruption is odd, but in line with DFID's increased emphasis on assessing impact. Younger generations were more likely to be supportive of aid. This is interesting, because it's not as if their university grants are not competing with ODA. Also the party political difference is quite small--perhaps a reflection of Labour voters' disaffection with foreign military campaigns or the Conservative voters increasing support for ODA.

I suspect that the way the public is engaged around aid needs to be rethought in terms of why and how aid matters and why and when we need global cooperation to deal with things like climate change and trade.

For example, there should be more experimentation (and evaluation) of:
  • whether authentic impact stories--good and bad--from those directly affected by aid makes a difference to attitudes about wastage
  • how different media framings make a difference to perceptions
  • whether UK taxpayers perceptions about aid change when they have some choice of how the money is spent
There is a rich seam of research just waiting to be tapped here using the using behavioural economics and psychology methods.

The kinds of experiments popularised by Thaler, Sunstein and Gladwell need to be taken into the worlds of aid and international development.


Jeneral28 said...

Hello Prof.Haddad,

Thanks for this amazing post on UKpublic perceptions on aid. i guess the results are such giventhe economic climte though I don't see much of a change if there wasn't a reccession. This surely provides an answer to the degree of effectiveness of DFID's efforts in gatering support for ID and aid.



Jim said...

What other surveys have found, but what this one unfortunately didn't get into, is that the public massively overestimates how much we actually spend on aid.

In a 2004 YouGov poll for Channel 4, 85% of people overestimated the proportion of national income we actually spend on aid, and when the true amount (0.34% at the time) was revealed, twice as many thought it was too little as thought it was too much.

Marianne said...

Lawrence, have you seen Simon Burrall's post on engaging the public and My Aid - on the opendemocracy site?

Paul Wafer

lawrence said...

Marianne, thanks, I have not seen that but I will check it out. Thanks to all 3 for your comments.