“Hard-headed” Cameron firm on foreign aid

By Liz Stephens

David Cameron has defended his plans to increase international development spending during the recession.

In a green paper released today, the Tory leader stated that reducing global poverty is essential to tackling major world threats like climate change and terrorism.

In a policy described as “hard-headed – but not hard-hearted”, the Tories reiterated their commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on international development, meeting the target set by the United Nations.

David Cameron said: “Dropping our pledge to increase aid would be a serious long-term mistake.

“We have a huge debt to pay off thanks to Labour’s economic incompetence. But paying down the debt must not mean pushing down the poor – at home or abroad”.

The plans announced include using the private sector to provide healthcare and education in developing countries.

But a spokesman for international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, claimed the Tory focus on private investment would divert money away from improving the state sector.

The ‘One World Conservatism’ green paper also proposes ‘payment by results’ funding for agencies and a controversial scheme concerning aid vouchers, which would give impoverished communities choice over the help they receive.

Oxfam has voiced criticism of the vouchers, saying the ‘choice’ they promise to offer poor communities is a myth as in many parts of the world there are simply no health or education options to choose from.

While charity ActionAid welcomed the Conservative’s commitment to aid spending, they were also highly critical of the vouchers scheme.

Dr Claire Melamed, ActionAid’s head of policy, said: “The history of development is littered with proposals that looked good on paper but turned out to be an administrative nightmare and to undermine the very thing they sought to achieve.

“ActionAid remains concerned that the proposals in this paper for aid vouchers and payment by results will turn out to yet another of the well-meaning but ultimately damaging experiments that can blight the lives of the poor.”

The Tories insist they plan to introduce “a tough new approach to ensure that every penny of aid funded by the British taxpayer is spent wisely”.

Shadow international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “With a Conservative government, Britain’s generosity will be matched by a relentless drive for value for money.

“We will demand transparency, accountability and real results from all our aid,” he added.

Another major proposal in the Tory green paper was the promise to cut aid to China, which recently spent an estimated £20 billion on hosting the Olympics, and pass on the savings to poorer countries and members of the Commonwealth.

But the government warned the Conservatives’ proposals could ultimately deprive the poorest families of education or healthcare.