SITTING in a cafe in a flood-ravaged market town, I look at the wet and bedraggled customers around me. Not even Brew Brothers’ magnificent fish finger sandwiches and their fine coffee can take away the despair on their faces.
Only days ago the river that runs through here burst its banks, causing devastation and misery to thousands of people. In this town alone, 1,397 people were left homeless with a clear-up bill of several million pounds to follow. The proposed plan to protect Kendal from the deluge was scrapped under Government cuts as money for flood relief fell by 10 per cent.
Across Yorkshire the scene was the same, there were not enough flood defences to protect the people. Yet, in the wealthy Serbian town of Lazarevac, flood defences paid for by British taxpayers kept the residents safe. Bojan Stevic, the dry and joyful deputy mayor of Lazarevac, said: “We’re grateful to Great Britain and to the British people. It does seem strange they spent so much money in our country on flood defences yet apparently were not investing enough in their own. It’s terrible to see the people of Britain suffering.”
Strange indeed and what an insult to the people of Yorkshire and Cumbria who will not be in their homes this Christmas.
In reply, a Government spokesperson seriously said: “This Government is able to both tackle the floods at home and respond to humanitarian crisis abroad. Investing in stability in Serbia, given its position in a region that’s suffered from instability, is in Britain’s national interest.”
I have to ask if this is in the interests of the people of Yorkshire and Cumbria.
As a Yorkshireman, I have always believed that charity begins at home. This practical and sensible approach to life goes against the Tory party’s obsession with giving more and more money in foreign aid. Next year it is estimated that the Tories will give away a staggering £12bn.
That is enough money to fix the police, defence, hospitals and social benefits for British people. It is also enough to make sure that no-one gets flooded out of their homes again.
However, the Tories, in an obvious attempt to get rid of their uncaring image, think that the British people can be duped into thinking they are nice by giving billions away in foreign aid.
This ludicrous giving spree is fostered by the EU. It is their accounting rules that will insist that a further £1bn is added to an already obscene foreign aid budget in 2016.
A shocking £13bn will be given away to tin pot regimes and dodgy projects and possibly filtered off into the bank accounts of foreign fat cats. It is not impossible to believe that British taxpayers could inadvertently fund terrorism here and abroad.
In a time of austerity when workers are being asked to make cuts in their standard of living and the disadvantaged are being robbed of social benefits, the Tory government wears the aid budget like a good conduct medal.
They are arrogant in their approach and contempt of the electorate who are getting wearisome of the vast amounts of money thrown at other countries.
There are housing estates in Scotland where life expectancy is lower than in the Gambia or Gaza. We have a NHS crumbling under cuts and overcrowded schools being run on a shoestring. What a disgrace and shame on the politicians who allow this to be the case.
A recent TaxPayers’ Alliance report said British aid “does not have any discernible impact on freedom in developing countries”.
Many people believe that foreign aid sponsors corruption and underwrites a massive international aid rip-off.
Peter Baur was one of the greatest development economists of our time. He said the aid industry was poor people in rich countries supporting rich people in poor countries.
Many academic studies have failed to find any beneficial effects of official foreign aid. The opinion is that aid has failed is nearly universal among those who study the data.
It is time that the foreign aid budget is cut to a sustainable level of £1bn. Even this is an outrageous amount when people at home are starving and getting their Christmas dinners from food banks.
British tax money should be spent on British people in British schools and hospitals. We should have a well-funded police force and military as well as social benefits.
Now is not the time to give away our money. Charity begins at home, to protect our homes from flooding and our children from hunger and disease.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.