Overseas aid is often a much-maligned element of Government spending, being contrasted by its opponents with concerns about the funding provided for all manner of other areas, from the NHS and education to our road and railway network.
There has been warranted criticism of where precisely British taxpayers’ money has gone, with particular concerns about poverty statistics being manipulated by corrupt leaders to rake in cash from the UK that never reaches the people it is intended to help.
But British aid has also saved countless lives, paying for more than 37 million children to be immunised from preventable diseases in the past three years and giving over 40 million people access to clean water and proper sanitation.
However, with Britain’s overseas aid budget totalling £13.9 billion in 2017, an increase of £555 million in 2016, and the UK the only major western economy to meet a United Nations’ target to invest 0.7 per cent of national income in this area, it is welcome to hear of Prime Minister Theresa May’s “unashamed” intention that the country’s development spending should work more effectively in the national interest.
Speaking at the start of a three-day trade mission to Africa, Mrs May set out her new priorities for overseas spending, both in terms of helping to create investment opportunities for British companies in nations with fast-growing economies and investing in nations like Mali, Chad and Niger that are fighting terrorism. Supporting crackdowns on organised crime, illegal migration, modern slavery and people trafficking have also been promised.
The proposals will be set out in more detail in future spending plans but for now the shift in direction appears promising. Delivering successfully will not be a simple matter, but it will be of genuine benefit to Britain if Mrs May’s aims can be achieved.