21 December 2012

UK and Australian Attitudes to Aid: A tale of two countries

"It's a Policy Knockout" shouts a Prospect magazine article by Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, the polling firm, in the January 2013 edition.

YouGov conducted a poll for Prospect on the policy choices the UK public most want.

Instead of ranking the 16 options as a list, the 16 were set up in a Champions League style knockout tournament.

"Cut overseas aid" was one of the 16 options put forward by YouGov. In the round of sixteen, Cut ODA was more popular than "tax £2m properties". In the quarterfinals it was more popular than "end all immigration" (quite an feat--see the AusAID story below).  In the semis it was more popular than "improve the NHS" (our national health service, which could do with some improving). So "cut overseas aid" made it to the final, but was beaten by "crack down on firms that avoid tax" which was the most popular of all policy choices (at least ODA is more popular than Google and Amazon--hang on, that's not saying much).

As the article notes, the options that were more popular not only reflected their innate desirability to those polled but also the perceptions of the feasibility of politiicans actually doing something about them.

And while--apologies to Chelsea fans--cup competitions like the Champions League have a lot of luck attached to them, the results above deserve serious attention.

In the same edition of the Prospect there are two letters relating to articles in previous editions. One letter is from former DFID Secretary of State Clare Short, defending the MDGs against an "attack" from Clare Lockhart. Another letter is from Andrew Christensen agreeing with an article by Ian Birrell on "aid being a poor answer to poverty". As we are on the verge of a step increase in the UK aid budget (at least in terms of the percent of GNI) this is perhaps not surprising. As usual, the evidence base is absent from most of these arguments (although not in Clare Short's letter).

I would really like to see a big picture view of what all the systemic reviews from the past 3 years have done to support or undermine the "aid effectiveness" picture. Can someone work with DFID, 3ie and AusAID to tell us?

And even if the evidence was clear and rigorous, it would still be contested--we need to rethink how we communicate when aid is and is not effective.

Talking of AusAID, Australians are also angry about ODA. But not because it is too high, rather because it has been "cut".

I put cut in quotes because technically the aid budget is intact (although an increase for next FY was postponed back in May) but rather because a chunk of it has been reallocated. Specifically 375m Australian dollars (out of about 5 billion) of ODA has just been allocated to meet the needs of refugees to Australia, in Australia. The opposition are somewhat gleefully describing Australia as the third largest recipient of AusAID, behind Indonesia and PNG. Backbenchers on the centre left are not happy either.

The Government is claiming that this use of ODA is in line with OECD DAC definitions. And indeed it is, the DAC stating

"Assistance to refugees in developing countries is reportable as ODA. Temporary assistance to refugees from developing countries arriving in donor countries is reportable as ODA during the first 12 months of stay, and all costs associated with eventual repatriation to the developing country of origin are also reportable."

The Australian NGO community is not happy (see a joint editorial from World Vision Australia and Caritas Australia) and the centre right opposition is making the most of it (the Government can't keep its word and made cynical promises on aid to secure the Security Council seat etc.). And while Australian aid has been growing rapidly, as a percent of GNI is it still in the bottom half of the DAC league table. 

My only comment on this is the irony of it all. While aid is so political in the countries of origin, we treat it as apolitical in the countries of destination. 

Apparently something magically happens to it during the transfer.   

1 comment:

Damie Thick said...

People should just learn not to invest so much on their self-interest and focus more on the common good.