Will Straw is co-author of ‘Understanding public attitudes to aid and development’ (pdfpdf), published today by IPPR and the Overseas Development Institute
New figures out today show many European countries are reneging on their aid commitments to the world’s poorest countries. Britain is a noble exception, but avoiding a public backlash will require more than the unveiling of new logos (the latest wheeze from the Department for International Development).
The One campaign’s excellent ‘2012 Data Report: Europe’s Africa Promise’ shows that the European Union is falling behind on its commitments. At the 2005 Gleneagles summit in 2005 chaired by Tony Blair, the group of nations pledged to increase aid to 0.56 per cent of national income by 2010 and 0.7 per cent by 2015.
The EU is already €18 billion behind, and will need an extra €43 billion by 2015 to meet its target. The worst sinners are Germany, which has to find an extra €9.4 billion by 2015, Italy (€8.8 billion), France (€6.6 billion) and Spain (€4.8 billion). The UK is among the countries that are on track alongside austerity-hit Ireland and the Netherlands. Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg are the best performers.
The shortfall could not come at a worse time, since Sub-Saharan Africa has been making rapid progress.
From 2005 to 2010, economic growth in the region averaged between 4 per cent and 7 per cent. Africa was home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. Aid from Europe contributed to some of this progress, with more than five million children vaccinated against measles and more than nine million children given a chance to go to school.
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell appeared on Andrew Marr’s show yesterday to recommit the UK government to put its target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid into law and to unveil a new UK aid logo featuring a union jack. The government deserves credit for protecting the aid budget despite wider cuts, but they will need to do more to persuade a sceptical public.
Research from the Institute of Development Studies shows that even when people are informed about the amount spent per person annually on aid, there remains significant support for cutting aid in the short term.
IPPR has been working with the Overseas Development Institute to better understand public attitudes on aid and development, and how NGOs and government could improve the quality of their communications. Across four deliberative workshops in London, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Evesham, we discussed the issues with diverse groups drawn from the public.
Our findings, released today and covered in detail on the Guardian, show that many members of the public are not aware of the progress being made in many developing countries, and believe that many of the resources are wasted or used inefficiently. Corruption was also seen as a problem, although not to the same extent.
Furthermore, fundraising appeals that ostensibly tug on people’s heart strings may in fact be counterproductive, reinforcing the idea that nothing has changed.
One person in Evesham said:
“I was around when Live Aid shocked everybody and still the problem hasn’t been sorted, we’re giving to charities, doing our stuff and it’s still happening.”
Our report recommends that NGOs and government should do more to ensure they understand the impact their messages and campaigns have on the wider public. This could include a greater emphasis on how change can (and does) occur in developing countries. Participants in our research showed an appetite for such stories of progress. For example, in Newcastle one said:
“They never show you the success stories, they never say ‘look at this hospital we’ve built, look at the wells we’ve made with the money that’s come in’, it’s always like you say the sob story kind of thing and a lot of it that goes in there is good and a lot of good things but you never see the success, they never do an advert saying ‘with your money we built this or we provided three donkeys’, you never see that kind of stuff, I never see it.”
Another in Edinburgh said:
“I’d say I’ve never heard this information before [about progress in Brazil and Vietnam], this is the first time, the impact it had on me was made me positive, it’s given me hope and I’m starting to believe again, well I do believe that problems have solutions.”
Our conversations also suggested that campaigns and communication strategies could do more to link debates about ‘responsible capitalism’ to the challenges facing developing countries. In all but one of our discussions, big businesses or multinational companies were seen as one of the responsible actors in helping improve development. This might include calls for greater regulation or taxation of major international companies operating in these countries.
As Britain stays on course with its own target, the aid budget will increase from around £7 billion this year to around £9 billion next year. That will not go unnoticed by the opponents of aid. Framing the right message is critical to increasing public support.