An education in aid
We can put international development into the heart of every classroom, writes Alex Ross-Shaw
International development will always be one of the cornerstones of any list of achievements for the last Labour government. The creation of a dedicated department signalled our intent, investment tripled, and we earned a global reputation as one of the best, most transparent and cost-effective donors in the world.
The incessant trashing of our record by the Tories has helped foment a general hostility towards international development, despite their stated commitment to retaining the target of spending 0.7 per cent of UK gross national income on this area. They have made their own struggle to win support for protecting this budget harder. But it also poses problems for Labour as we seek to rebuild our reputation as safe custodians of taxpayers’ money.
How do we make the case for international development in an era of spending cuts? One way could be to bring international development into our schools through micro-financing initiatives chosen by pupils.
Micro-financing is a financial service aimed at low-income individuals or small businesses that may not normally have access to such services. Lend With Care is one such scheme operated by Care International and the Cooperative that facilitates £15 loans from the public to the developing world. Another scheme, Kiva, has facilitated over $300m in loans since 2005.
If the Department for International Development, partnered with Lend With Care, set up an account for every primary school classroom in the UK it would cost £4m for each class to provide a loan, just 0.06 per cent of the annual DfiD budget of £6.7bn. Approximately two to three per cent of the loans made through micro-financing projects such as Lend With Care default, so to cover these costs there would be an additional annual spend of £118,800.
The process would be simple, transparent and gain high visibility at little cost. The scheme need not be bureaucratic, with accounts created by teachers and administered by Lend With Care, and it would involve the public in the decision-making process in a more sensible way than the Conservatives’ MyAid idea that conjured up images of life-or-death policies decided by public vote. If successful, the scheme could be expanded to high schools and remain a small part of the DfiD budget without jeopardising Britain’s other commitments.
Importantly, Lend With Care could serve as an invaluable classroom tool, potentially allowing children to communicate with their borrowers, showing them the reality of life in the rest of the world and defining international development as helping people help themselves, rather than media-defined ‘hand-outs’.
It is important to acknowledge the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of micro-financing. The Economist found that while the short-term effects were overstated it does give the entrepreneurial poor access to credit they might not otherwise have, suggesting positive longer-term effects as their businesses grow at a faster rate.
Although derided by some, slogans such as ‘a hand-up, not a hand-out’ were so effective because they chimed precisely with public opinion on how government money should be spent. In an era of spending cuts aligning international development with such a mantra would be no bad thing.
Alex Ross-Shaw is a Labour councillor in Bradford
DfID, education, international development, schools, UK aid