The Dark Side to the Battery Revolution

The Dark Side to the Battery Revolution

As the World Economic Forum states; the next energy revolution is upon us. With solar energy continuing to decrease in cost and predictions that in the near future it could become less expensive to produce than coal, the outlook for a sustainable energy future looks promising.

A major roadblock in mass adoption of solar energy for years has been the inability to store the energy produced at peak sun light hours for use when needed. Batteries represent the median through which the storage of this energy can occur. But until now batteries have been too expensive and too limited in their storage capacity meaning they make little economic sense.

This is where the battery revolution and companies like Tesla with their Gigafactories fit in. An arms race of sorts has emerged between companies like Samsung, Panasonic, BYD and Tesla to create a battery that is both cheap to produce and with a bigger storage capacity. This would make grid-scale energy solutions cheap and efficient and make the switch to renewable energy more feasible. Additionally these “super batteries” would have would have substantial effects outside energy sector as they would double the range of a Tesla and be able to power an IPhone for up to 2 days without recharging (a near miracle).

Model of the Tesla Supercharger Station, announced in 2013 | Werner Bayer

For some time, the target for electric vehicle manufactures has been to create a battery that costs $100 Kw/h. This would make the cost of running an electric car equal to that of its petrol counterparts. Tesla’s latest claim, given the planned economies of scale achieved with their new gigafactory model of production, is that they can achieve a battery with a $125 Kw/h tag. This is significant given that consultant McKinsey reported that as recently as 2010 the cost was around $1000 Kw/h.

The battery revolution therefore, has huge and potentially game changing consequences for a number of industries. Nonetheless it also has a dirty secret, which has the potential to grind its progress to a halt if left unresolved. This secret comes in the form of the mineral cobalt. The lithium-ion batteries in question rely on cobalt and with the Economist reporting that demand for the mineral doubled in the last five years and the Business Insider reporting that the battery will grow to be worth in excess of $93.1 billion by 2025 demand for this mineral looks set to keep increasing. According to the World Economic Forum the lithium-battery market already accounts for over 40% of the worlds mined cobalt and this proportion is set to rise to 55% by 2019.

The issue with cobalt as a mineral is that 65% of the worlds supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The DRC is renowned for violence, corruption, the use of child labour and environmental degradation. A Sky News exposé revealed that children as young as 4 were working in thousands of unofficial cobalt mines in the DRC for less then 8p a day, in slave like conditions. According to the WHO, exposure to the mineral and the fumes associated with the mining and refining process can cause long term health problems. Despite this, no form of protective masks or gloves are used at these mines. A report by RCS Global into the supply chain risks associated with cobalt found that the likelihood of the following being present in the supply chain were certain:

  • Human rights abuses in artisanal mines.
  • Child labour in artisanal mines.
  • Provenance from conflict-affected/ high-risk countries; political insecurity.
  • Poor community relations and disrespect for human rights around industrial mines.

With global demand only set to increase these problems look set to be exacerbated. RCS Global reports that public scrutiny for the use of cobalt has increased since 2016 with a number of notable events:

  1. Jan 2016 Amnesty International release Cobalt Report.
  2. Oct 2016 Apple reclassifies cobalt as conflict mineral.
  3. Jan 2017 Launch of Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI). Including companies such as Apple, Samsung SDI and Sony Corporation.
  4. March 2017 Apple temporarily stops buying cobalt from ASM (artisanal onoononono   and small-scale mining) sites in the DRC.
    Demorcratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Colton/Tantalum Mine | Responsible Sourcing Network

However, in its latest report Amnesty International says that large companies are still not doing enough to resolve this black hole in their supply chains. Although companies like Apple and Samsung SDI are reported to have taken adequate action, Apple being the first company to publish a list of its cobalt suppliers, Amnesty argues that these companies are still not doing enough to vet their suppliers. Worse still, companies like Sony, GM and Volkswagen have taken minimal action while Microsoft, Dell and BYD (who supplies 20% of the worlds lithium-ion batteries) have taken no action at all.

This technology has the potential to have a tremendous effect on the way we live and usher in a new green energy age. During the industrial revolution, human rights and the environment were left as collateral damage in the pursuit of profit and progress. With the availability of information we enjoy today we can no longer remain naïve to the facts. Therefore, we should be demanding transparency from companies. With the upside potential of this new technology, increased public pressure is needed to prevent this black hole in the supply chain from engulfing the clean energy revolution before it has even begun.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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The Forgotten Victims of Gender-Based Violence

The Forgotten Victims of Gender-Based Violence
Source: Tasnim News Agency

The Rohingya Crisis continues to make headlines, as more and more evidence of shocking human rights violations comes to light. Gender-based violence has been prevalent throughout the crisis. ActionAid’s country director in Bangladesh spoke recently about her experience visiting refugee camps in the country, ‘to speak to the women and girls who have borne the brunt of the crisis in many ways.’

Many Rohingya women arrive in the refugee camps alone, or are now the heads of their families. In fact, it is now estimated that 70% of Rohingya refugees are women and girls. Reading the accounts of these women, who have experienced and witnessed such unimaginable horrors which no-one should ever have to endure, a nagging question slowly begins to emerge: if most Rohingya refugees are women, where are all the Rohingya men? Reading further into survivors’ accounts provides an answer…

‘Two weeks ago, the military arrived in our village. They entered every house and rounded up all of the young men.’

‘Soldiers killed my brothers in front of me and raped me. They shot my father.’

‘Marium, 60, recounted how the security forces rounded up all the men in her village and took them away. She never saw them again.’

‘We saw them slit throats and bellies, shoot our men, and rape our women. They killed the older men, and then the men my age.’

‘The soldiers separated the men from the women. The villagers pleaded for their lives and dropped to their knees, hugging the soldiers’ boots. The soldiers kicked them off and methodically killed all the men, said Rajuma and several other survivors from Tula Toli…

…many of them are dead.

It is becoming increasingly clear that thousands of Rohingya are being systematically slaughtered, not only because they are Muslims, but also because they are men.

The history of gendercide

Sadly, the systematic targeting of male civilians for execution during conflict is nothing new. The 2005 Human Security Report states that ‘There is…compelling evidence that non-combatant males ‘have been and continue to be the most frequent targets of mass killing and genocidal slaughter as well as a host of lesser atrocities and abuses’.’ Even from just the past 50 years, examples abound of gender-based mass killings perpetrated against male civilians – so much so that they begin to look less like isolated incidents, and more like a common feature of modern conflict:

  • The 1971 genocide in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) during which an estimated 2.4 million out of 3 million Bengalis killed were adult men.
  • The 1988 Anfal Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan, the principal purpose of which was the extermination of all adult males of military service age.
    Memorial to the Rwandan Genocide
  • The 1994 Rwandan Genocide, during which, according to the Rwandan government, over one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, the overwhelming majority of whom were men and boys.
  • The 1998-1999 Kosovo War, during which ‘an overriding tactic was evident in Serb military strategy: the gender-selective detention and mass killing of ethnic-Albanian men, especially those of “battle age.”’
  • And many other examples which are too numerous to list here.

Defining gender-based violence

Definitions of gender-based violence are highly varied, but most are variations on the theme of ‘violence targeted to a person because of their gender, or that affects them because of their special roles or responsibilities in the society.’ Going by this, the examples listed above would very closely match the definition of gender-based violence. A common theme is the deliberate targeting of males based on their gender; many accounts describe men being purposefully separated from the women within a community before being killed. It also seems highly likely that men as a group – particularly men of military age – were chosen as targets of violence because of their traditional gender roles as fighters and protectors. As outlined by the Human Security Centre in their explanation of the targeted killings of civilian men during the Kosovo War: ‘The explanation? Part revenge and part bleak strategic logic: killing battle-age males minimises future threats to the victors.’

‘It’s what a man’s got to do’ – US Selective Service leaflets.

Using this definition, combat deaths could also be classed as gender-based violence against men. It has long been understood that men constitute the overwhelming majority of combat fatalities – and, after all, these men are only put in the firing line as a result of their traditional gender roles; be that through cultural pressure to volunteer, or through forcible conscription by their government or occupying force. For example, even today the United States only requires men to register for the military selective service.

However, despite the gender neutrality of the term ‘gender-based violence’, and the relevance of the term with regard to the experiences of men listed in the section above, many organisations simply see it as synonymous with the term ‘violence against women’. For example, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) writes on its website: ‘The terms are used interchangeably throughout this website and EIGE’s work, as it is always understood that gender-based violence means violence against women…’ This serves to deny the lived experience of the untold number of men across the world who have suffered violence as a direct result of their gender.

The case is often made that gender-based violence primarily – or uniquely – affects women and girls ‘as a result of unequal distribution of power in society between women and men.’ It is beyond doubt that women and girls are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence during conflict, and that this is rooted in dynamics of gender and power. But it must equally be recognised that the selection of men as targets of mass killings also stems from the unequal distribution of power in society between women and men. The societal power which men traditionally hold ironically makes them more vulnerable to being intentionally killed during conflict, as they are seen as inherently more threatening and capable of resistance than their female counterparts. This is particularly true in low-intensity conflict and counter-insurgency operations.

The power of words

The exclusion of men from the definition of gender-based violence is not merely of academic importance; it has a profound impact on the allocation of funding by international organisations. For instance, the United Nations has a whole host of programmes, and even an international day, dedicated to the elimination of violence against women. Yet no equivalent programme exists for the elimination of violence against men.

‘Leave no one behind’: logo for the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

On the ground, it can lead to men being excluded from efforts to protect civilians during conflict, as they are not considered sufficiently vulnerable. Take the below example given by a UNHCR Official in 2002:

Officially refugees were not allowed to cross the Afghani border into Pakistan last year, only ‘vulnerable’ groups, only women and children. But in fact the men were perhaps the most vulnerable and the women themselves were most concerned about the men who had the risk of being conscripted to the Taliban at this time.

It also has implications within the realm of international law. The International Labour Organization’s Forced Labour Convention of 1930 – which is still in force today – absolutely prohibits the use of forced labour if its victims are women and children, yet under some circumstances permits the use of men aged 18 to 45. Furthermore, military conscription and prison labour (which overwhelmingly affect men) are excluded from forced labour regulations. If forced labour and military conscription, which together have directly led to the deaths of millions of men throughout history, were more widely recognised as forms of gender-based violence, there would be a strong case to challenge this discriminatory legislation.

Cultural blindness to male victims of violence

The tendency in some international organisations to view gender-based violence as a phenomenon solely affecting women and girls reflects a recurring attitude throughout Western culture (and many other cultures for that matter) which views maleness as antithetical to vulnerability. Although this attitude is better suited to the Age of Chivalry than to the 21st century, it is still highly prevalent, even in countries where much work has been done to combat harmful gender stereotypes.

It can be seen in the media response to Boko Haram’s attacks on schoolchildren, with the eruption of global outrage and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign when 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped, yet barely a ripple when news emerged, both before and after this incident, of the murder of hundreds of school-age boys and the kidnap of thousands.

Daily Mail (left) and Daily Express (right) coverage of the arrival of male Syrian child refugees in the UK

It can be seen in the response to the arrival in the UK of the first wave of Syrian child refugees, who were lambasted as undeserving in the reactionary press because they were predominantly male and looked too ‘adult’. So, despite having fled a conflict where 75% of civilian casualties have been adult men, they were deemed not vulnerable enough to deserve sympathy or sanctuary.

Although many rightly recoil in disgust at the attitude of the likes of the Daily Mail towards male refugees, we perpetuate the same outdated gender stereotypes when we exclude male victims from definitions of gender-based violence. Lots of important work has been done in order to better understand the role which gender plays in violence against women during conflict, so that we can better understand and eradicate that blight upon the world, yet the role of gender in violence against men has been largely ignored.

There are thousands upon thousands of men who would still be alive today if they had been born female. For their sake if nothing else, we can’t afford to ignore it any longer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #10 “Aid money is spent on the wrong things”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #10 “Aid money is spent on the wrong things”

There is a widespread belief that overseas aid money is either handed over to corrupt dictators and never reaches the people it is supposed to help, or is wasted on extraordinarily expensive projects which have little or no benefit for people living in poverty. These are perfectly understandable concerns – all public spending should be scrutinised and accountable to ensure that taxpayers are getting the best possible value for money. But do these accusations hold up?

During an episode of Question Time this January, the UKIP donor Arron banks declared that ‘We have to start working out our priorities. Is it to spend £12 billion [in foreign aid] that is misappropriated by foreign corrupt governments or spend the money on the NHS for people in this country?’[1] Firstly, the idea that we should cut foreign aid in order to pay for public services is tackled in this article. Secondly, the claim that the entirety of the UK’s aid budget ends up in the pockets of foreign governments is simply untrue.

The first thing to understand is how the foreign aid budget is actually spent. The vast majority of the aid budget is not given to foreign governments. In fact, the Department for International Development has committed to ending traditional ‘budget support’ – money given directly to developing country governments.[2] The proportion of the aid budget spent this way has been steadily declining, and in 2014 accounted for just 0.45% of the total aid spend.[3]

Around 40% of the aid budget goes to multilateral organisations – bodies such as UNICEF which bring together various governments, individuals, corporations, and foundations to act collectively.[4] This has both pros and cons. Multilateral organisations have economies of scale, world-class specialist expertise and a large reach, and are also widely seen as independent and politically impartial. However, sending money to multilateral organisations can reduce the oversight which the UK government has over exactly how that money is spent.

The other 60% is spent on direct assistance to developing countries. As seen above, only a very small (and falling) proportion of this is simply handed over to foreign governments to do what they like with. The vast majority is used to fund specific projects which the UK government maintains oversight of, and in fact the Department for International Development is one of the most transparent aid agencies in the world.[5] The bulk of this money is channelled through international development charities which work directly with local communities in developing countries, meaning that their governments don’t get a chance to misappropriate the funds.[6]

By all means let’s have a discussion about how to end corruption around the world. For example, a good start would be closing down tax havens which allow corrupt leaders to hide their ill-gotten gains. But lazily repeating the falsehood that aid spending first and foremost goes to corrupt foreign leaders is both dishonest and unhelpful.

The problems with aid

Overseas aid has achieved incredible things (see this article for some examples), but of course it is not perfect. Examples abound of money from the aid budget not being spent on the most impactful projects, to say the least. For instance, the infamous example of £3.8 million being used to fund the Ethiopian ‘Spice Girls’.[8] An increasing amount of aid money is not even leaving the UK, but is being spent on expensive consultants. The Times newspaper claimed that up to £1 billion a year from the foreign aid budget was spent this way, with one consultant reportedly paid £23,000 to write a 2-page policy brief.[9]


Furthermore, too often the primary purpose of aid has not been poverty reduction, but it has instead been used to secure policy concessions (e.g. preferential trade deals, military support, privatisation of public utilities).[10] Of course, if aid is to contribute to a world free of poverty, this needs to end.

The public debate around foreign aid has been reduced to an uncritical ‘for’ camp and an irredeemably negative ‘against’ camp. Against this backdrop, it’s tempting to gloss over the failings of foreign aid when coming to its defence. However, we won’t build public support for aid by pedalling rose-tinted untruths.

It is perfectly possible to be critical of how the aid budget is spent while still supporting it in principle. If millions of pounds from the health budget were found to have been misspent, this would prompt calls for reform rather than for health spending to be scrapped. Those of us who believe that foreign aid is a good use of public money must put forward a positive vision of what the aid budget should be spent on, rather than uncritically defending it in its current state. Global Justice Now have done some excellent work in this area, releasing the report Re-Imagining UK Aid which sets out such a vision.

The foreign aid budget is not perfect, so let’s reform it. It’s time to move the public debate away from straw-man arguments and oversimplifications and towards a more nuanced discussion around the areas in which foreign aid is failing and the ways it can be improved.

[2], p. 49
[3], pp. 149, 153
[7], p. 25
[10] Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, The Dictator’s Handbook, ch. 7

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #9 “They’re poor because they’re lazy”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #9 “They’re poor because they’re lazy”

A common attitude nowadays is that people are rich because they work hard and deserve to be wealthy, whereas people are poor because they are lazy, feckless and incapable. Does this idea hold up?

Many people living in developing countries actually work far harder than their counterparts in the developed world. For example, Mexico and Costa Rica have the longest average weekly working hours of the OECD countries at 42.9 and 42.6 hours respectively. Compare this with the average working week in the United States of 34.4 hours, and in the UK of 32.3 hours.[1]

People living in poverty aren’t in that position because they’re too lazy to earn a decent wage. They’re in that position because their national economies aren’t very productive. For example, poor soil quality and a lack of mechanisation in agriculture mean that many farmers in developing countries have to spend many hours performing back-breaking work just to produce enough food to feed themselves and their families, let alone produce a surplus to sell.

Many people living in the world’s poorest countries have no option but to send their children out to do manual labour, just to earn enough money to eat. The idea that these parents are so heartless that they would put their own children through this misery just out of their own laziness is not only offensive but downright ludicrous.

We tend to lose sight of the role that luck plays in our lives. The lottery of birth is still an extraordinarily powerful determinant of how someone’s life will turn out.

Those of us living in rich countries such as the UK benefit from centuries of history and economic development which we had absolutely no part in. It is because of this history that we have effective public institutions, democracy, high quality education and healthcare, comparatively high-paying jobs, etc. A person born in a rich country has a far greater chance of having a good standard of living than if that exact same person had been born in a developing country.

The concept of natural economic justice – that people are rich or poor purely as a result of their own individual talent and effort – is both dangerous and demonstrably false. The world is full of examples of lazy, untalented rich people who are wealthy because of who their parents were; and intelligent, talented, hard-working poor people who, because of circumstances beyond their control, haven’t had the opportunity to improve their lot in life.

The successful American investor Warren Buffett put it well when he expressed humility at the extent to which his own personal talent was responsible for his success:

I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil. I will be struggling thirty years later. I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well – disproportionately well. [2]

It’s important to recognise that how our life turns out is not only a result of our individual skill and effort, but are in large part down to luck. Donating to international development charities and supporting foreign aid to help those living in poverty overseas is, in part, recognition that if the lottery of birth had turned out differently, we could so easily have been in their position ourselves.

[2] Quoted in Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, p. 30.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #8 “Why has nothing been achieved?”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #8 “Why has nothing been achieved?”

The fight to eradicate global poverty has been going on for decades. Yet despite all the money that has been donated and all the work that has been done, international development charities are still running adverts showing how horrendous the situation is in some countries around the world and asking for money to help. This is understandably frustrating – What on Earth did they spend all that money on if not to solve this problem? you may think, Either they wasted the money or they’re too incompetent to spend it correctly – either way, they’re not getting any more of my money!

The first thing to say in response to this is that an enormous amount has been achieved in the field of international development. For example, below are some key achievements of UK foreign aid since 2011:[1]

  • 11 million children supported into education.
  • 30 million people prevented from going hungry.
  • 7 million malaria nets distributed.
  • 5 million people given access to clean water and sanitation.
  • 67 million children immunised against preventable diseases.
  • 13 countries supported to have freer and fairer elections.

Yet despite all this progress, the task is far from complete. Poverty has not been eradicated, and billions of people around the world still have a standard of living which is far below what most people in the developed world experience.

So why has this issue not been solved yet? Part of the reason is the sheer scale of the problem. More than 60% of the world’s population live on less than $7.40 a day – the amount which it has been calculated is required to achieve normal human life expectancy of just over 70 years.[2] That’s about 4.2 billion people. Each year, rich countries spend around $125 billion on foreign aid, which is an awful lot of money. But divide this by 4.2 billion people and it works out at just $30 each per year, or $0.08 a day. So while the generosity of people in the developed world has meant that a large amount of money is devoted to tackling global poverty each year, unfortunately it is still not enough given the scale of the problem.

Another reason is that global poverty is an ongoing problem. For instance, vaccinating children against preventable diseases is not a one-time fix, but something that needs to be done again and again for each new generation. Lots of work has been done to get developing countries to a stage where they are self-sufficient, for example South Korea was previously an aid recipient but is now not only self-sufficient but is itself an aid donor. However, until this is achieved for every country, some will still require ongoing assistance.

Climate change is undoing some of the good work which has been done over the years, and is creating additional work which needs to be done. Developing countries have been hit hardest by climate change, having to cope with more frequent extreme weather events and droughts, and falling crop yields. They are having to spend a lot of money just adapting to climate change, never mind actually improving their situation. For example, climate change adaptation costs Sub-Saharan African countries a total of $10.6 billion a year.[3]

Progress in eradicating global poverty has not been as rapid as we may have liked because of growing global inequality. The gap between rich and poor has been steadily growing to the point where now 8 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.[4] This extreme level of inequality is a major barrier to developing countries reaching a point where they are self-sufficient.

It’s important to be honest about the limitations of aid. The sheer scale of global poverty means that charity alone cannot solve the problem. Nor can it, when what is given to developing countries with one hand in the form of foreign aid is taken with the other through debt repayments, repatriation of corporate profits, tax avoidance, unjust trade rules, land grabs, etc. (see this article for more information).

Aid and charity have an important part to play in the eradication of poverty, but they must be accompanied by the creation of a global policy environment which supports developing countries and gives them a fair chance at catching up with their rich counterparts, rather than the current policy environment which is rigged in favour of the rich and has allowed an ever greater proportion of global wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a few. Only when this is achieved will we be able to eradicate global poverty for good.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #7 “I’d rather give them the money myself”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #7 “I’d rather give them the money myself”

Widespread concerns about dodgy and unscrupulous overseas aid charities not sending donations where they’re supposed to have led some people to instead express a wish to donate money, clothes, food, etc. to those in need directly, thereby bypassing the charity ‘middle-men’.

These concerns have been fuelled by negative coverage of international development charities in the press, which has claimed that these charities spend a lot of money on wages and so hardly any of the money actually gets to where it’s supposed to. However, these claims are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what overseas aid charities actually do. In general, these charities do not operate as cash transfer schemes. Read our previous article on this topic to find out about how overseas aid charities actually spend the donations they receive.

Rather than increasing the impact of your donation, giving money directly to those living in poverty overseas can actually achieve less than if you had donated to a charity. If you’re planning on travelling to a developing country with the goal of donating directly to those in need, the costs involved (flights, travel insurance, vaccinations, food, accommodation, security, etc.) will eat up a significant amount of your donation.

But let’s say that you were planning on travelling to a developing country anyway, or that you’re transferring money to someone you know in the country who can then distribute it for you. That will maximise your impact, right? Well, actually this still won’t achieve as much as if you had donated to a charity. Donating directly to a person or family living in poverty will certainly help to alleviate their situation in the short-term, but it will have limited long-term impact.

International development charities conduct research to ensure that donations are spent in areas where they will have maximum impact. Then, rather than giving money to people directly, they invest donations in projects which will have a long-term impact in the community. For example, donating food to someone living in an area suffering from poor harvests will have less of an impact than investing in an irrigation project which allows the local community to be self-sufficient and reduces the chances of poor harvests occurring in the future. Unless you are donating a large enough amount of money to entirely fund such a project, it makes sense to let charities combine individual donations and create a greater and longer-lasting impact than these donations could have achieved alone.

Donating directly, rather than through established charities, can cause many issues. For example, crowdfunding has recently emerged as an alternative way of donating to worthy causes. Organised by well-meaning individuals, crowdfunding appeals are meant to cut out the much-maligned ‘administration’ costs of official charities, meaning that all of the money goes where it is intended. However, there are numerous examples of these appeals encountering unforeseen problems – from struggling to track down the intended recipients, to encountering controversy as to where to spend the money raised in excess of what was required, to being taken to court for an unexpected bill.

Established charities have systems of governance and accountability in place which make sure that donors’ money is spent transparently and effectively. The proportion of donations spent on administration is not wasteful, as often claimed, but ensures that problems like those mentioned above are avoided or effectively resolved.

Non-financial donations

What about donating things other than money? Whenever a natural disaster hits, the first instinct of many kind-hearted people is to donate food, clothing, blankets and other goods to be sent to those affected. However, the costs of sorting, processing and transporting these donations can very often exceed the total value of the donations themselves.

Instead, humanitarian aid charities use monetary donations to buy supplies, wherever possible, in the affected country or region. Not only does this improve value for money, but also helps to support the local economy. Additionally, they do not wait until disaster strikes to buy these supplies, but keep strategically-placed warehouses around the world pre-stocked so that they are ready to respond as soon as an emergency arises.

If you’d like to donate something other than money, you could donate items to a charity shop, or donate your time to volunteer for a charity or run a fundraising event. In doing this, you will generate money which can be quickly and easily sent where it is needed most.

Donating directly to people living in poverty overseas may mean that your entire donation goes to your intended recipient. However, at the end of the day it will also mean that your donation will not have as great an impact as if you had entrusted it to an international development charity. And surely it is the impact which matters?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #6 “Their own government should help them”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #6 “Their own government should help them”

It is without a doubt true that governments should help their own people. However, this phrase is often used to mean that the welfare of people living overseas is a problem for their own government to deal with and no-one else.

The problem with this idea is that the concept of each government having absolute responsibility for taking care of their citizens only really works if each state is equally capable of doing this. In reality, because of accidents of geography and the course of history, some states have more capacity to look after their citizens than others.

For example, in 2009 the UK was able to collect the equivalent of $13,806 in tax per person. Compare this with even a relatively affluent developing country like Brazil which – with an almost identical tax rate – collected just $3,957 per person.[1] This enormous difference in tax receipts means that the UK is far better placed to take care of its citizens than Brazil is. The point of foreign aid is to get all countries to the stage where they can collect enough tax to ensure the welfare of all their citizens.

In many cases, developing countries are struggling to overcome poverty because of the actions of developed countries such as the UK. Climate change, disproportionately caused by developed countries, is disproportionately affecting developing countries. Climate change adaptation is already a significant cost for many developing countries, costing Sub-Saharan African countries a total of $10.6 billion a year.[2] It seems only fair that the UK assists with this cost.

Furthermore, the present wealth of the UK is built on the profits of imperialism, which held back the development of many present-day developing countries. Foreign aid is not just an act of charity, but well-deserved compensation for these wrongs.

There are also pragmatic reasons why the UK should continue to send aid to developing countries. It is an excellent way to improve foreign relations and, after all, the aid recipients of today are the trading partners of tomorrow. Helping other countries to develop also contributes to the creation of a more stable world, as states plagued by poverty and inequality are much more likely to be unstable.

Additionally, it is a way to reduce immigration. People born in poor countries are driven by the perfectly natural impulse to seek out a better life for themselves and their family, which often leads them to attempt to move to a wealthier part of the world. Improving the quality of life in their home country therefore reduces the incentive for them to emigrate.

“But what about corrupt dictators and despots?”

Given the examples of Robert Mugabe and other dictators dripping in wealth while the majority of their population struggles to get by, it’s tempting to think that if only these tyrants were toppled, their countries’ problems would be solved. However, more often than not they would simply be replaced by an equally corrupt dictator and these countries would still be poor. Dictators don’t just occur because of individual immorality, but because there are structural factors in place in poor countries which allow dictatorships to easily take hold.

The leader of a poor country essentially has two choices as to what to do with the limited amount of public money at their disposal: use it to improve the lives of their citizens (building roads, hospitals, etc.) or use it to enrich themselves and their key supporters. A good leader would of course use it for the former, but these kinds of leaders tend not to last long. All money spent on helping the public is money which an opportunistic rival can promise key supporters should they replace the current leader. If all dictators around the world were immediately deposed and replaced with benevolent rulers, there would still be plenty of rivals waiting in the wings to take the reins of power – and the opportunities for self-enrichment that come with them.

Part 1 (clip ends at 4.30)

Part 2 (clip ends at 13.30)

When we talk about ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries, it doesn’t refer to how much currency they have. Rather, it refers to how productive their economies are. Developed countries like the USA and Japan are rich because their economies have a large proportion of high-productivity industries such as manufacturing, which produce a comparatively large amount of value in a short period of time. This means that workers receive higher wages and the government collects more tax which it can then invest back into the economy.

Developing countries are poor because a greater proportion of their economies are occupied by low-productivity industries such as textile production, agriculture and mineral extraction. One of the objectives of foreign aid is to help developing countries to transition from low-productivity economies to high-productivity ones.

Improving the productivity of developing countries’ economies can actually help to reduce the chances of despots hoarding the nation’s wealth for their own benefit. In a relatively poor country which relies on a few low-productivity industries (e.g. oil or mineral extraction), rulers can get by just keeping the small number of people which run these industries happy. As economies become more productive and therefore reliant on a greater number of industries, rulers must keep a greater number of people happy in order to remain in power, and are therefore set on the path from dictatorship to democracy.

By giving developing countries the nudge they need to reach this productivity threshold, foreign aid can pave the way to democracy and bring about a world where every government is willing and able to help their own people.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #5 “Foreign aid fuels overpopulation”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #5 “Foreign aid fuels overpopulation”

Concerns about overpopulation, or the ‘population explosion’ as it’s sometimes called, are widespread at the moment. The logic surrounding these concerns is understandable – it seems as if there aren’t enough resources to go around in developing countries, therefore sharing them out amongst more people is only going to make the problem worse.

From this perspective, it appears that overseas aid is fuelling the problem of overpopulation by ‘artificially’ keeping people alive whose environment can’t support them, who then go on to have even more children whose environment can’t support them, and so on.

However, aid spending is actually helping to reduce the number of children being born per family rather than increasing it.

It’s important to understand why people in some developing countries tend to have lots of children. Because there is little or no welfare or pension provision in these countries, people have to rely on their children to look after them if they become too sick or old to work. Because so many children die before they reach adulthood, these parents need to have lots of children to guarantee that enough of them will reach adulthood to be able to look after their parents. For them, having lots of children is both an economic burden and an economic necessity.

The way to encourage people living in such countries to have fewer children is not simply to tell them not to have as many babies. By improving child health and economic security, foreign aid is helping to remove the incentives to have so many children.

The UK went through a similar process in its history. During the 18th century around 4-6 children were born per woman but only 2 of these survived to adulthood. As healthcare and living standards improved, fewer children died and there was therefore less of an incentive for families to have lots of children, leading to the stable birth rate the UK has today. Present-day developing countries have been able to achieve the same results in a fraction of the time. For example, 7 children were born per woman in Bangladesh in 1970. By 2012 that figure had dropped to 2.2, the level required for a stable population.[1]

By helping developing countries to move through the same process that the UK did in previous centuries, and which Bangladesh did between 1970 and 2012, foreign aid is not fuelling population growth but is actually helping to slow it down.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #4 “Overseas aid charities are fraudulent”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #4 “Overseas aid charities are fraudulent”

We’ve all been there – you’re walking down the high street and someone in a brightly coloured t-shirt stops you to ask for donations to help people living in poverty overseas. A nagging doubt appears in your mind: How much of my donation will actually go to the people who need help?

These doubts have been fuelled by recent newspaper articles claiming that international development charities spend a lot of money on wages and so hardly any of the money actually gets to where it’s supposed to. What a scandal! you may think, These charities are frauds, taking money that was meant for those in need. I’ll never donate to them again!

However, these claims are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what overseas aid charities actually do. In general, these charities do not operate as cash transfer schemes. When you donate £10, that money isn’t put on a plane and flown over to be given to a family living in poverty. Why? Because while this would alleviate some of their problems in the short-term, international development charities aim to achieve much more than that. International development is about asking questions like ‘Why are these people poor in the first place?’ and tackling the root causes so that poverty can be not just alleviated but eradicated.

The issue of global poverty is much more complex than simply giving poor people money. If it were that simple we would have solved it by now. That’s why overseas aid charities carry out research to understand more about the problem so that they can tackle it more effectively; they engage in political lobbying and campaigning to try and change the rules that keep poor countries poor (e.g. tax havens and unjust trade deals); and they invest donations into projects in developing countries (e.g. irrigation and sanitation) which will have a long-term impact far in excess of what would have been achieved simply by handing over a lump sum.

When people donate to an international development charity, all of this is what their donation funds. You can think of it as like donating to a cancer research charity – that money isn’t sent directly to people with cancer, but instead funds an ongoing process aimed at permanently eradicating the problem.

“But charities waste so much money on fundraising and staff wages”

This is a completely valid concern; no-one wants any amount of their donation to be wasted. The vast majority of charities are also concerned with getting as much impact from their donations as possible. That’s why they are governed by trustees – professionals who voluntarily give their time to ensure that the charity is efficiently and effectively run.

Any business that doesn’t invest in its future is doomed to not be around for long. The same is true of charities which don’t invest in fundraising. It may leave a bitter taste in the mouth to think that a portion of your donation is paying for an advertising campaign or for the wages of the annoying person who just stopped you on the high street. But if the portion of your donation which is invested in fundraising encourages another person to donate, then you’ve essentially doubled your impact, and surely that’s worthwhile?

Charities make use of volunteers as much as possible to keep their running costs down, but there are some tasks which require a qualified person to be working on them full-time; and this means that they need to be paid. Charity workers have been portrayed in the media as dodgy and shameful, dipping their hands into funds which were meant to go to the needy. Again, this is based on a misunderstanding of what international development charities actually do. As discussed above, their workers do so much more than process donations. They don’t just enable charitable activities to happen; often their work is the charitable activity.

Sure, charity CEOs probably shouldn’t be getting 6-figure salaries, but there’s nothing dodgy about charity employees getting paid for the work they do. They have bills to pay like everybody else and join the charity sector knowing full well that they will get paid less for doing the same job than if they worked in the private sector. It may be uncomfortable to think that when you donate to charity, that money is going to pay someone’s wages. The truth is, whenever you spend money you’re paying someone’s wages.

When you hire a plumber you’re paying their wages; when you buy milk you’re paying the farmer’s and the shop assistant’s wages; when you buy an iPhone you’re paying a whole host of people’s wages – all the way from the Apple store employees to the people mining the raw materials. The point is that you’re happy to pay their wages because you want the product or service that they provide. The question is whether you think eradicating global poverty is a service which you want to be provided.

Charities have been accused of becoming ‘an industry’ or ‘too corporate’. The fact is that the modern corporation has proven to be a highly efficient and effective structure for getting things done. Just look at the enormous global reach and influence of companies like Microsoft and Coca Cola, and imagine what a charity with that kind of power and influence could achieve. If we’re serious about ending global poverty as soon as possible, surely it makes sense for charities to become as ‘corporate’ as possible, and harness this enormously powerful structure to do something good.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Time for change in South Africa: the ANC picks a new leader

Time for change in South Africa: the ANC picks a new leader

Ever controversial, Jacob Zuma gave his last speech as President of the ANC today. Will his replacement create change in South Africa? Sammy Fookes explores the options

South Africa has suffered two recessions in eight years, dramatically halting economic development. Over 55% of South Africans still live in poverty  and between 2012 and 2016 gross national income decreased by 28%. The country remains highly unequal.  More unacceptable still is the economic legacy of apartheid. A 2016 research paper found 10% of South Africans, the majority white, own 90% of the country’s wealth. In addition to these financial pressures, the adult HIV prevalence rate is 19% and according to the Health Minister, among school girls it is a staggering 28%.

The 2008 global financial crisis was not kind to South Africa, hollowing out the country’s central economic pillar; demand for mineral deposits.  Many attribute economic woes specifically to Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s erratic president, who survived numerous attempts to force him to step down. Ivor Sarakinsky from the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance in Johannesburg said in June that “Zuma being replaced sooner rather than later will certainly help rebuild the confidence needed to turn the economy in a positive direction”.  Such sentiment is mainly the result of businesses’ reluctance to invest in the uncertain environment Zuma is creating. The decision in March to sack Pravin Gordham, who is well-regarded by investors and economists, and had been looking to improve the performance of state owned firms resulted in several agencies downgrading South Africa’s credit rating. Gordham was critical of Zuma’s close ties to the Guptas, a powerful family of businesspeople. A report by the Public Protector has accused Zuma and the Guptas of ‘state capture ’ through the Gupta’s influence in Cabinet appointments and awarding of contracts at state-owned enterprises.

It is little wonder then that South Africans do not trust the institutions that govern them. According to Transparency International, in 2013, nearly 80% of people believed political parties were corrupt in South Africa, in addition to 70% believing parliament was corrupt.

Zuma himself faces a staggering 783 charges of corruption. The most notorious of these is the 2016 finding by the country’s highest court that he violated the constitution by using $23 million of state money to renovate his home with additions of a swimming pool and amphitheatres, claiming these were security upgrades.

President Jacob Zuma in 2013  / GCIS

Public anger has resulted in numerous street protests, as Zuma and his close circle of connections continue to grow rich while ordinary South Africans grow poorer. Even members of Zuma’s own political party, the African National Congress (ANC), have been vocal in their criticism, complaining of ‘massive looting and corruption’ at a recent parliamentary debate on whether to oust him. Opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance hope to make electoral gains through the ANC’s association with Zuma. Indeed, in local elections in 2016 the ANC experienced poor results, losing four ‘metros’.

The end of Zuma’s reign is, however, in sight. At a party conference on December 16 the ANC will choose Zuma’s successor as its leader and presidential candidate in 2019. The winner will likely be Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred choice, or Cyril Ramaphosa. Ms Dlamini-Zuma would protect her ex-husband from corruption charges. According to The Economist, a victory for her would undermine the economy, jeopardise social harmony and entrench state capture.  Ramaphosa, on the other hand, is seen as a pragmatist, with plans to boost economic growth and provide much needed jobs to South Africans.

In 2011 the acronym BRIC, which refers to Brazil, Russia, India, and China became BRICS with the addition of South Africa. It would then seem that South Africa’s economic development and growth would mirror that of China and India, the lives of its citizens would improve, and its geopolitical clout would rise. In recent years it has become clear that such optimism was misplaced.

Given the damage Jacob Zuma has done in power, this leadership election should represent a straightforward choice for the ANC. The numbers suggest Ramaphosa is in the lead. However, even with Zuma’s unpopularity, the vast majority of ANC MPs backed him when it mattered in a vote in August brought forward by the opposition on whether to remove him as President.

Millions of South Africans need a strong economy to reverse the country’s massive unemployment rate and escape poverty. The ANC must take stock of this.  They should consider its slogan of ‘a better life for all’ and change course by electing Ramaphosa if it wants to truly deliver this promise.

Find out more:

Thumbnail image: Jan Truter


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #3 “We send too much money abroad”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #3 “We send too much money abroad”

Given the significant amount of coverage which the UK foreign aid budget receives in the press, in political discussion, and in charities’ external communications, the public would be forgiven for thinking that the UK sends vast swathes of money overseas. The UK does spend a significant amount of money on international development – in fact it was the first G7 country to meet the UN’s 45-year old aid spending target. The current foreign aid budget stands at approximately £12 billion which is around 1.6% of government spending.

Overall, rich countries send a total of around $125 billion in foreign aid to developing countries each year.[1] Now that is a lot of money, and governments of wealthy nations use this as evidence of their generosity. However, the dominant ‘aid narrative’ glosses over the various ways in which rich countries extract wealth from developing nations, effectively taking back their aid contributions. Below are some examples of how this is achieved:


In the olden days (pre-1980s), the responsibility was on lenders to make sure that their loans would get repaid. Lending to riskier countries (e.g. those in the developing world) offered a higher rate of return, but carried with it the risk that the borrowing country would default on its loan and the lender would lose out.

This all changed in 1982 when Mexico defaulted on its loans. The US Treasury and the International Monetary Fund, rather than incurring the huge losses which this would have entailed, decided to step in. Instead of letting the loan default, these organisations rescheduled the debt in exchange for Mexico’s adoption of certain economic policies which opened the country up to foreign interests and which are widely regarded to have damaged the Mexican economy, making it more difficult for them to repay.

This treatment, known as ‘structural adjustment’, then became standard. The result has been that the amount of debt owed by developing countries has spiralled as more and more interest was piled onto loans which should have been defaulted on while new loans had to be taken out to cover the repayments, leading to debts many times larger than the original sum. In many cases, so much interest is accrued that the original debt is repaid several times over. For 2015, the debt service paid on external debt by low and middle income countries exceeded $800 billion.[2]

Tax Avoidance

Tax avoidance is theft, plain and simple. Multinational corporations take full advantage of public spending on infrastructure, education, law enforcement, etc. in the countries in which they operate, and then don’t pay for it. Unlike theft, however, for the most part tax avoidance is perfectly legal and carried out through a process known as trade mispricing.

Let’s say that I own an internet search provider – let’s call it ‘Moogle’ – operating in the USA, the UK, and the British Virgin Islands. Now, profits have been good this year and Moogle US and Moogle UK have both made $10 million. However, Moogle British Virgin Islands, since it really only exists on paper, has no profit at all to show. Before the end of the tax year I decide that what the US and UK branches need is a snazzy new logo, so they each pay Moogle British Virgin Islands $10 million for this important work. And would you look at that, hey presto! When the taxman comes round to Moogle US and UK, they unfortunately haven’t made any profit to be taxed on. Perhaps they should take a leaf out of the British Virgin Islands branch’s book where there is $20 million awaiting significantly more ‘business-friendly’ tax rates.

Tax avoidance in developing countries effectively constitutes a transfer of wealth from the public purse to the private coffers of multinational corporations by and large headquartered in the rich countries. In 2012, developing countries lost approximately $991 billion in illicit outflows – greater than the combined foreign aid and foreign direct investment they received that year.[3]

Of course, tax avoidance does not just benefit multinational corporations based in the West, but also wealthy companies and individuals within developing countries who wish to conceal their profits from the tax authorities. However, large-scale tax avoidance is only possible because of the existence of tax havens, the vast majority of which are controlled by a handful of Western countries. For instance, the largest network of tax havens has the City of London at its centre, which controls secrecy jurisdictions throughout the British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.[4]

Trade Rules

Global trade rules can be highly varied, but the most important are those concerning tariffs and regulation of foreign investment. Tariffs are taxes which countries put on foreign goods in order to give an advantage to their own industries. For example, when Japan’s car industry first started out it couldn’t compete with foreign imports, so the Japanese government introduced tariffs which allowed the domestic car industry to grow and nowadays it is one of the best in the world. Regulation maximises the benefit which developing countries get from foreign businesses operating on their soil – for example, requiring them to transfer technology or buy materials from domestic suppliers.

The main thrust of international trade agreements in recent years – primarily as a result of pressure from rich countries – has been to reduce tariffs on manufactured goods (by and large produced in developed countries), and to reduce regulation. Reducing tariffs means that emergent manufacturing industries in developing countries are outcompeted by more established rivals in the developed world, meaning that developing countries are stuck in low-productivity industries such as agriculture and textile manufacture. Reducing regulation means that corporations based in the developing world are able to exploit cheap labour or extract natural resources in a developing country, send the profits back home, and contribute little or nothing to the country’s economic development.

It’s difficult to give an exact figure as to how much these unfair and one-sided trade rules have cost developing countries, but economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts has estimated the cost at $500 billion a year.[5]


A recent report by Global Financial Integrity which comprehensively examined international financial flows found that for every dollar in aid received by developing countries, $24 is lost through other means.[6]

Of course foreign aid is not the only money which developing countries receive from their wealthy counterparts. In 2012, developing countries received a total of $1.3 trillion from aid, foreign investment, remittances, income from abroad, etc. At the same time, $3.3 trillion flowed out of them, meaning that they experienced a net loss of $2 trillion that year.[7] That’s $2 trillion that could have been spent on combating poverty, improving healthcare, developing industry, or adapting to climate change. Far from being recipients of enormous swathes of cash, overall developing countries are net creditors to the rest of the world.


The fact that the UK spends billions of pounds each year in aid to developing countries is common knowledge. However, the vast amount of money that rich countries receive back from developing countries is not nearly as well known. Perhaps public attitudes towards foreign aid would shift if more people knew that, far from sending too much money abroad, the UK and other rich countries currently do far more harm than good in the developing world.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #2 “Foreign aid should be cut to pay for public services”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #2 “Foreign aid should be cut to pay for public services”

In any given episode of Question Time, especially during episodes in which the NHS funding crisis is discussed, there is a high chance that at some point someone will suggest that a simple way to raise money for public services would be to cut the foreign aid budget.

For one thing, the foreign aid budget isn’t the eye-wateringly large amount of money which people seem to think it is. For 2015 it stood at £12.1 billion. That’s just 1.6% of government spending, about the same as what the government spent on the railways.[1]

Secondly, it doesn’t seem right that reducing assistance for the world’s poorest people is always the first suggestion for where we should source extra public money. The UK’s aid budget is portrayed as this vast, wasteful sum of money that is inexcusable given the cutbacks in other areas of public spending. What is hardly ever mentioned is the enormous amount of money which the UK government spends on corporate assistance, or which is lost through cuts to corporation tax and corporate tax avoidance. Below are some examples:

  • £44 billion in corporate tax breaks.[2] For example, capital allowances which allow businesses to write off billions spent on machinery, vehicles, IT and office equipment against corporation tax.
  • £35 billion on legacy costs of the bank bailouts.[3] Much of this cost is interest payments on long-term borrowing which was used to fund the bailouts following the 2008 financial crash. The government is effectively retaining the ‘bad’ parts of the banks taken into public ownership following the crash, and selling off the ‘good’ parts at a net loss. Furthermore, the banks are protected somewhat from regular market mechanisms and assessments of risk because the UK government effectively guarantees to underwrite these risks.
  • £16 billion in wage subsidies.[4] In-work tax credits effectively subsidise businesses by allowing them to pay their workers less than they need to live, safe in the knowledge that the government will top up their wages. Similarly, housing benefit allows landlords to charge rents far above what their tenants can afford, inflating the rental market.
  • £15 billion in hidden transport subsidies.[5] Airlines do not pay tax on fuel, corporation tax on their ‘economic activity’ within the countries they operate in, or VAT on ticket sales. Train companies enjoy lower duty on fuel.
  • £15 billion lost through procurement from the private sector.[6] The government spends a total of £238 billion (one third of total spending) on procuring services from the private sector. It has been estimated that it could save £15 billion if some services were instead run by the public sector. This is due to the costs involved in drawing up contracts, monitoring projects, project overruns, and picking up the pieces when private sector companies fail. The government also has to pick up additional costs in benefit payments and/or tax credits when workers are laid off or paid less when private companies take over the running of a public service.
  • £14.5 billion in subsidies and grants.[7] These include subsidies to agriculture, train companies (separate from the hidden subsidies mentioned above), the nuclear industry, and the defence industry. Additionally, grants are given to businesses to encourage them to invest in a certain area or to prevent them from collapsing.
  • £12 billion lost to corporate tax avoidance.[8] This is technically legal, as opposed to tax evasion which is illegal, and almost exactly matches the UK aid budget.
  • £5.4 billion lost from cuts to corporation tax since 2010.[9] These tax cuts mean that businesses are paying nearly £8 billion less in corporation tax per year. This could potentially result in more inward investment, but it has been estimated that it will result in a net tax loss of £5.4 billion. The UK already has by far the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7.
  • £3.8 billion in energy subsidies.[10] These subsidies benefit providers of electricity, gas, and oil. They also include legacy nuclear costs – primarily post-production clean-up.

This is not to claim that all of the spending mentioned above should immediately be scrapped, or that none of it has any beneficial impact. The aim of this is to illustrate that there are far more areas of government spending than just foreign aid which could be reviewed when considering what, if anything, should be cut to generate more money for public services.

For those who benefit from the aforementioned subsidies – and for the politicians who represent them – it suits their interests to divert public attention away from the huge amount of financial assistance they receive from the public purse. Much better to encourage people to criticise the relatively small amount of money spend on the foreign aid budget. It’s a classic diversionary tactic, as cynical as it is effective.

So next time a public figure is eager to highlight the foreign aid budget as an easy source of money to pay for public services, ask people to think about if they have any vested interests and if they are trying to divert attention away from the vast sums of money which the UK government spends on corporate assistance. Why are the poorest always the first to pay when money is tight?


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #1 “Charity begins at home”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #1 “Charity begins at home”

The original meaning of this proverb was that a person’s first responsibility is for the needs of their own family and friends. However, nowadays the ‘home’ referred to is frequently not an individual household, but the UK as a whole. When discussing overseas aid, this phrase is often used to argue that the UK should tackle its domestic problems before spending money to help those in need abroad.

This phrase is bandied around as if it’s some kind of universally acknowledged truth – like ‘practice makes perfect’ or ‘scissors beat paper’ – which automatically trumps any other argument. Really, it’s just a group of words which doesn’t make that much sense if you encourage people to think about it for a while.

The point of charity is to help those who need it most. Imagine if someone’s house burned down, and their next door neighbour refused to help because they had rising damp in their walls and so needed to sort that out first because, after all, ‘charity begins at home’. Only the most heartless person would do that, right? The scale and urgency of need must surely be taken into account when deciding where charity is deserved.

Those of us living in the UK are very fortunate that our collective ‘home’ has wealth in abundance. It may not feel like it at times – to someone on a zero-hours contract struggling to pay the rent it must feel like a kick in the teeth to be told they’re fortunate to live in a rich country. The truth is, there is an enormous amount of wealth in this country which could be put to use solving domestic problems if only the British public would vote for policies aimed at tackling economic inequality. In much of the developing world, no matter who they vote for (if they even get to vote) they will still be poor.

It’s hard to even imagine the hardship which exists in some parts of the world. The scale and urgency of their problems make ours seem small by comparison. In the UK it is (quite rightly) a national scandal that so many people are reliant on food banks; in Chad, people routinely starving to death doesn’t even make the headlines. Here, the NHS is experiencing a funding crisis; in Malawi, there is no universal healthcare and medical services are struggling to cope with an AIDS crisis. Here, it is claimed that the ongoing Brexit debate is tearing the country apart; in Colombia, lives, families and communities have been torn apart by decades of civil war.

We have the resources in this country to tackle our domestic problems and help those in need overseas. It doesn’t have to be a choice. Many countries around the world have significant and urgent problems which they need help to solve. If the UK abandons foreign aid because ‘charity begins at home’, we are no better than someone refusing to help their newly homeless neighbour because of their own troubles with rising damp.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Freedom from Tyranny

Freedom from Tyranny

Two armoured vehicles were parked beside the main road from Harare to Chinhoyi, about 20 km from the city.  The news was received with scepticism and confusion. A military coup taking place in Zimbabwe seemed premature at best. But it was true. Reports that after 37 years, the Mugabe regime had come to an end were greeted with celebrations all around the world. Only a few days earlier, Zimbabweans had been infuriated when one of the President’s sons filmed himself pouring hundreds of pounds worth of champagne over his diamond-encrusted wristwatch, all the while unemployment remains high and the health system collapses.

Reactions from politicians were muted and calm at the time. Britain’s foreign minister refused to be drawn into the Mugabe succession debate, but instead called for free and fair elections to be held as scheduled next year. Chair of SADC (Southern African Development Community) and South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma sent an envoy into Zimbabwe and is believed to have talked to Mugabe whilst calling for calm and restraint. African Union chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat urged the crisis to be resolved in a responsible manner, but also argued that the AU was against “any unlawful takeover of power anywhere on the continent.”

Zimbabwe celebrates as Robert Mugabe resigns / BBC News

Amid the joy of now having ended the 37-year rule of Mugabe, there was some sense of caution. Zimbabwe’s armed forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, had kick-started a process that means Zimbabwe is now one of 40 African countries that have seen coups. Chiwenga held a press conference attacking the manoeuvres by Grace Mugabe that took Emmerson Mnangagwa from the post of vice-president proclaiming that, “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.” Three days later, General Sibusiso Moyo read out a statement on the state broadcaster stating, “What the Zimbabwe defence forces are doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent event.”

The rationale the army is using to justify their actions creates more questions about the future of Zimbabwe than answers. Zimbabwe has been in free fall politically and economically since the late 1990s, reaching fever pitch in 2008 after it is believed Mugabe had lost the presidential elections. Why did the army not intervene during the 2008 general election period, to pacify an unstable political situation which left more than 100 … dead, 200-plus abducted and missing, hundreds more jailed on spurious charges, thousands beaten and tens of thousands forced from their homes? Was the death of so many people in 2008, not a “degenerating political, violent event” as stated by Major General Moyo? There were also a number of reports that in 2008 instead of stopping the violence during that period, Chiwenga reportedly told Mugabe, ‘We can’t lose elections. We can’t hand power to the MDC. We are going to obliterate them,” amid reports that Mr Mugabe was going to accept defeat.

Chiwenga’s statement read at the press conference blatantly reinforced the army’s argument which they have repeated every election year since the rise of the opposition in Zimbabwe, that they will not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone without liberation war credentials. The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai criticised this logic in 2002, saying it was tantamount to intimidation.

Many people will argue that the country has got rid of the biggest obstacle to democracy and peace by the ending the Mugabe regime. However, the replacement chose by ZANU-PF assisted by the army could continue the situation Zimbabwe has been in for the last few decades. The belief among academics and analysts who know of Emmerson Mnangagwa is that there is a little chance that he will walk away from power after two terms (according to Zimbabwe’s constitution) after he is sworn in today in Harare.

Zimbabweans will celebrate the end of the Mugabe regime and rightly they should after all these decades. For many Zimbabweans, Grace Mugabe becoming president would have been the worst thing to happen for the country. However, the army has taken away a raw moment of celebration and freedom from the Zimbabwean people and given them an illusion which could dissolve into more years of despair. Emmerson Mnangagwa did not receive the nickname ‘the crocodile’ for his pacifist persona. As history has shown us, coup leaders don’t always live up to the promise of instilling democracy, and many coups result in an upturn in human and constitutional rights abuses.

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Zimbabwe is free of Robert Mugabe, should the world celebrate? | The Economist


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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It is 28 days since actress Alyssa Milano’s infamous tweet that sparked a social media debate about men’s behaviour towards women and globally engendered power imbalances. The #MeToo campaign has since been attributed to Tarana Burke’s 2006 grassroots campaign on MySpace, which was aimed at creating ‘empowerment through empathy’, particularly among women of colour from underprivileged communities. #MeToo is no doubt very different to what Burke envisaged in 2006, with less of a focus on race and privilege and more concern with sexual harassment and assault. Her campaign dealt with a different but no less important form of discrimination, however without major celebrity support failed to gain the same level of public attention as the more recent #MeToo.

The conversation about sexual harassment in its current online form goes back much further than the #MeToo campaign. After all, #MeToo came about on the anniversary of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which US president Donald Trump bragged “when you’re a star, they let you do it”. The response to Trump’s misogynistic comments in 2005 was similar to that of the recent Harvey Weinstein revelations and resulted in the #NotOkay campaign.

So, what has changed between #NotOkay and #MeToo? First, the effects of #MeToo have been visible, not only in the ramifications for Harvey Weinstein but for a number of other men. Sam Kriss, a journalist for Vice, Rupert Myers, political correspondent for Vox Media and Lockhart Steele, editorial director at Vox Media were all fired after sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations came to light as a result of the campaign. Perhaps actions do have consequences after all.

Second and perhaps most encouraging is #MeToo’s male representation, response, and engagement. A factor mentioned in many articles discussing the campaign is the detached representation of men as supporters. This is not to deny that the majority of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases are perpetrated by men and suffered by women. Neither is it to shift the focus of the campaign away from empowering women to become more vocal. But if the purpose of the conversation is to truly change some men’s behaviour, then we need to enter into a meaningful dialogue with them, by acknowledging, involving and challenging them to discuss.

I will be the first to admit that it is very difficult, as a man, to accept there will be men I know who have committed acts of sexual harassment or even sexual assault. Although they are not representative of all men, there is more we can do as men to challenge these aggressors and stand with women. And there are men that have done just that. Benjamin Law, an Australian journalist, and screenwriter responded by taking to Twitter and create a brothering hashtag to #MeToo entitled #HowIWillChange.

Not all reaction to the #HowIWillChange hashtag was positive, however. While a number of men began to tweet how they would change their behaviour in support of #MeToo, others saw this new hashtag as an attack on their personal characters and values. They began tweeting responses:

“#HowIWillChange – I Won’t. I’m not a bad guy. I won’t be forced to feel like one.”

I can’t help feeling that these men are involving themselves in a campaign they do not fully understand.

They are not the only misguided commentators within this discussion. Margaret Wente, a columnist for Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, among other simplistic comments wrote “The vast majority of men are not violent sexual abusers… and to sort of tar the whole male gender with this problem is very unfair to men”. There have been many responses to #MeToo, but it is difficult to evidence an indiscriminate tarring of the male gender. If men feel similar to those referred to above, that they are scrutinised under the same behavioural microscope as women are daily, then I say good. Empathy is an important lesson.

While it is optimistic to think that the #MeToo campaign can change an entire oppressive system, what it has provided – for me at least – is insight into the scale and frequency of the oppression women face daily through stories from women in my life. What the campaign hasn’t done is reveal the full extent of the problem. I’m well aware that there will be many women out there, probably some of whom I know well, who didn’t take part in the campaign for various personal reasons. But what they should know is that should they choose to speak, they won’t be alone. It isn’t their fault. It’s the man’s fault. And if they stand up to him, I and other men like me will stand with them.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Exit Priti Patel

Exit Priti Patel
The New International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt / Gareth Milner

Penny Mordaunt has been appointed the new International Development Secretary after Priti Patel was forced to resign on 9th November. The resignation came after a string of unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials, including in the politically sensitive region Golan Heights.

Will Patel will be missed by DfID officials?  She belongs to a group of Conservative party politicians rumoured to want the department to be folded back into the Foreign Office and for the pledge to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid to be cut.  A quarter of all aid money is now being spent by other government departments, and ministers are now shared with the Foreign Office. According to Steve Bloomfield in Prospect magazine, Patel’s leadership is part of the reason for morale being the lowest it has ever been among civil servants in the department.

With Priti Patel leaving, the door was open for the Prime Minister to appoint someone with a passion for the brief who could re-energise the department. A strong supporter of the UK’s aid budget commitment of 0.7% of gross national income would have sent a clear message to the department and the wider development community. Rory Stewart would perhaps have been an appropriate choice, given his experience in the diplomatic service, where he governed two provinces in Iraq, as well as his work in Afghanistan where he set up Turquoise Mountain, an NGO. Alistair Burt, the Minister of State for International Development and the Middle-East at the Foreign Office also deserves a mention. Nicky Morgan too, is an experienced politician, having served in government, and voiced her support for the UK’s aid budget recently, arguing for increased investment in water and sanitation.

Despite this, there were reports that May was under pressure from the Europhobe wing of her party and the right-wing press (who have been hostile to foreign aid) to appoint a Brexiteer. May made time for a banquet celebrating the Daily Mail editor’s 25 years in the role on the night of Priti Patel’s resignation. Then Mordaunt was appointed.

Judging by her tone in the build up to the EU referendum, DfID officials will probably be sceptical about Mordaunt. She suggested that Turkey was about to join the EU and seized on the Leave campaign’s anti-immigrant tone. She hardly seems like the global citizen that would be welcomed by the development community.

The appointment of Mordaunt is a missed opportunity to reconcile with the more socially liberal wing of the Conservatives and the UK as a whole. Appointing a Remainer could have sent positive signals to the more progressive and younger voters that the Conservatives lost in the general election. That May did not take this opportunity, suggests perhaps she is being held hostage by a coalition of pro-Brexit MPs, party donors and the right-wing press – who recently tried to discredit universities by accusing them of influencing students to support Remain.

The episode begs the question: are people are being appointed to government posts solely because they are suitable, or must they be loyal Brexiteers as well? Without someone who will boost the department, the very existence of DfID is at risk, with the Foreign Office looking to take more control, and another Secretary of State happy to allow the department’s decline.

What do you think?

Read Penny Mordaunt’s article for the Daily Telegraph here

Read the full article in Prospect magazine The war on aid: the hidden battle inside Priti Patel’s own department


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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A charity that deserves to sparkle

A charity that deserves to sparkle

‘Empowering children of today, for a better tomorrow’ is the motto of The Sparkle Foundation, a UK charity making strides to provide education, nutrition, and medical support through small-scale sustainable projects for communities in Malawi, Africa.

Malawi is an underdeveloped and largely agricultural country, weakened by hardships such as HIV, Aids, and corruption. The country is one of the poorest in the world, with half the population living below the poverty line.

The Sparkle Foundation was founded by Sarah Brook in the town of Lytham St Annes in Lancashire, North West England, after she travelled there during her gap year. It was at the young age of eighteen that she embarked upon her mission to trigger change in Malawi, initially starting in a small village called Sogoja, with aspirations to help communities worldwide. Sarah has since spoken across the globe in schools, universities, and various companies, as well as being featured on television, radio, and newspapers. In 2016, she gained the title of United Arab Emirates Woman of the Month.

Ted Talk by Sarah Brook, CEO of The Sparkle Foundation

Sparkle Malawi has a vision for long-term sustainable impact and aims to do this in four ways. Firstly, through achieving sustainability. Two-year time limits are set on initiatives aiming to help communities utilise the ‘Malawi model’, which implements methods using natural resources to encourage self-sufficiency.

The foundation has its own health and nutrition program which early this year introduced health evaluations of all children involved. The program provides them with meals and safe drinking water, a huge majority of which comes from the locally grown ingredients in the communities.

Education is a third priority. The charity is currently devising a curriculum for children aged two up to the age of eighteen. For younger participants there is an early childhood program, providing a fun and educational nursery for those up to the age of six. Older children attend local schools in the morning, and then in the afternoon, classes are in place to help them develop skills to assist in securing job pathways by the time they reach eighteen.

The foundation has also partnered with the Malawian health department to provide medical support to the communities. A nurse ensures check-ups and any necessary vaccinations are provided on a monthly basis. Local team members are trained in first aid, there is a medical clinic on site, and advice can be provided for a variety of medical ailments.

The success of these initiatives has come from the great work of volunteers both in Malawi and those in the United Kingdom.

Sparkle Malawi turns on the first electrically pumped borehole in Zomba district

How can you get involved?

The Sparkle Foundation hosts a range of events to fundraise for these projects. This year the Sparkle Sevens Rugby Tournament was a storming success, raising close to £10,000 and attracting more than 700 supporters. The foundation also challenges supporters to complete the iconic Brighton Marathon in April, and this year won a golden ballot spot for the London Marathon.

School mum Theresa Ruscoe is raising money from selling second-hand goods on eBay, and creating change from her home at no cost at all. Alternatively, you can make a difference simply by donating or sponsoring either a meal or a child, and there are also volunteering opportunities.

To find out more go to: or email


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Does short-term volunteering abroad do more harm than good?

Does short-term volunteering abroad do more harm than good?


This month the London International Development Centre (LIDC) with The Guardian Global Development Network hosted a talk on voluntourism as part of a series of panel debates on key issues in international development. Speakers included Tricia Barnett, Director at Equality in Tourism, Dr. Jim Butcher, Reader in the Geography of Tourism at Canterbury Christ Church University and Alex Kent, International Director of Strategy at Restless Development. Shefali Shah went along to find out more.

It is a question that has long been debated in international development. Whether you are a student or graduate looking to gain experience abroad, or a skilled professional wanting to do more, most people choosing to volunteer overseas are motivated by a private desire to help. And there is no shortage of organisations, both public and private, offering such opportunities. From gap year placements on conservation or teaching projects to DfID’s International Citizen Service (ICS), 50,000 volunteers are placed overseas each year through 85 organisations in the UK alone.

But what difference can those volunteering overseas on short-term projects really expect to make when development is so complex? And what should organisations and volunteers themselves be doing to make the most of what they have to offer?

Volunteering versus voluntourism

So-called voluntourism, a combination of volunteering and travel, offers tourists the chance to experience a developing country and its culture while lending support to a local community.

The idea that just anyone can make a difference to development in a short period of time has faced intense scrutiny and not only from development experts. Tricia Barnett, Director at Equality Tourism described voluntourism as being “[about] us versus them, those with versus those without, the strong versus the weak.”

Where volunteers are selected for the experience or their ability to pay, this can lead to gaps in culture, status, and background. As a result, voluntourism places the needs of the volunteer above those of the communities they help, focusing more on what the volunteer wants to do, rather than the skills they can bring.

In an industry worth around $173 billion each year, companies can often be seen to be gaining more than the disadvantaged communities they work with. The NGO Lumos recently reported on the impact of orphanage voluntourism in Haiti. Philanthropic funds from overseas are creating an incentive for child trafficking such that orphanage directors were found to be recruiting children to their orphanages for profit.

Whether it is profit or advantage among other businesses, voluntourism is often sold as a means of enhancing an individual’s CV. And as anyone wanting to work in the international development sector knows, experience overseas can be crucial in standing out amongst the competition.

Who really benefits?

From millennials to Generation X, young people today are more engaged in global issues. More than 80% see it as their duty to change the world. A lack of trust in Western governments alongside growing inequality, climate change, migration, and unemployment has meant youth are increasingly looking to society to take on global citizenship.

Organisations that offer volunteering play an important role in connecting young people to build momentum and ultimately drive global change. For those choosing to volunteer overseas, the experience can be inspiring, help to create more active global citizens as well as provide people with a better knowledge and understanding of development.

“The benefits to the individual and their careers can be huge as well as the relationships built between young people and local communities,” said Alex Kent, Director of International Strategy at Restless Development. For Alex, the significant impact on volunteers, communities and global change from volunteering through ICS can be justified given it accounts for a small percentage of the UK’s aid budget.

However, some might question whether spending £75 million sending more than 20,000 young people overseas, is more beneficial than spending that money on sustainable long-term development in these countries.

What about the hosts? Is there a danger that voluntourism might create dependency amongst local communities rather than the infrastructure needed to sustain their development? In Ghana, people were less likely to buy health insurance in the knowledge they could receive the medication they needed from the international volunteers visiting every few months. Working overseas should be about creating meaningful change and for volunteers that come and go this can be difficult to achieve.

As Dr. Jim Butcher, Reader in the Geography of Tourism at Canterbury Christ Church University pointed out, while local communities may gain superficially from the support offered by volunteers, the longer term impact is often harder to measure and;

“What matters is the activity and whether it’s well organised, well-conceived, well managed and collaborative with those national communities. [That] is the definition of good impact.”

In short-term volunteering, there needs to be an equal benefit to all – volunteers, not-for-profits, and hosts. The voluntourism industry shows no signs of slowing and there is an urgent need for those involved to adapt so that volunteer experiences have meaning and improve quality of life. Organisations can do more to shift from the commercialisation of volunteering and offer better structured and thought-out opportunities that are embedded in the needs of the communities they aim to help.

What can volunteers do?

Good-quality volunteering projects are led by communities and place the greatest value on working in partnership. Volunteering in the short term requires having the knowledge and understanding of the support they need and the skills we as individuals can bring to a developing country context.

When selecting overseas volunteering placements, we can ask:

·        Do we have the right skills for the role?

·        How will our money be spent?

·        What benefit will there be to the community?

·        How much can we really achieve in two weeks?

Recognising the value of short-term volunteering for both volunteers and local communities requires a deeper understanding of the type of work being undertaken. Development is complex and the proliferation of westerners volunteering overseas raises an important question around who in fact should be contributing to development – volunteers or paid workers.

While volunteering doesn’t offer a solution to development, it can be a valuable tool for empowering young people to take action on global issues. Achieving change is about working together and while short-term volunteering can be a good place to start, it is important to identify the projects that do more good than harm.

Find out more

Development in Action offers responsible volunteering placements overseas in partnership with NGOs throughout India. Find out more about our India Internship Program

You can watch the full debate on You Tube here



The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Global Migration and Economic Empowerment: The Wage Crisis Faced by Refugees

Global Migration and Economic Empowerment: The Wage Crisis Faced by Refugees

As crisis in the Middle East and North Africa spreads, thousands have sought safety abroad as refugees seeking political asylum. Here, Adam Grech examines the complex relationship between the needs of those seeking asylum in host nations. Also, he considers the distinct policy gaps that exist in fully addressing migration challenges, and the ultimate success of those searching for a new home.

Over the course of the past 20 years, there has been a significant presence of patterns of conflict that have created new waves of refugees and displaced persons. The overall number in fact, has surpassed the number of refugees seen following the Second World War. In 2011, with the outbreak of civil war in Syria, even larger numbers of asylum seekers fleeing the terror of the conflict began the migration process. Those from countries around the world have joined them in a decades long string of global migration.

In assisting those in need, nations from across the globe have opened their doors to those seeking asylum, and have gone to lengths to help in providing those fleeing conflict with a new home. Despite the altruistic intentions of many of these nations accepting refugees, however, the long-term nature of the settling of migrants presents many challenges for policymakers residing in host countries.

Of the difficulties that arise in the naturalisation process, economic empowerment, particularly in well-educated nations, remains a significant issue that often goes unaddressed. Of the nations that have opened their doors to refugees, a large number, such as the likes of Canada and many European nations, retain highly educated populations. They also have high minimum wage levels when compared to the global standard. This balance allows for a high standard of living and increased capacity to assist with migrants. But, it also creates difficulties for those refugees that lack a university education, or are not proficient in their host nations native language, and can act as a barrier to employment opportunities.

In Sweden for example, while the country’s 160 thousand refugees have managed to escape violence and find a new home, their economic realities prove to be difficult. Of those who have immigrated to Sweden, less than 500 have found permanent employment. This shockingly low employment rate has in turn led to a significant wage gap between native Swedes and refugees.  While the Swedish government provides significant benefits to its refugees, the 6,468 Swedish kronor per month is far below the SEK 33,305 earned by the average male who holds a position in manufacturing or a similar industry.

Campaign poster for the Sweden Democrats | Blondinrikard Fröberg

This severe gap in income inequality between refugees and Swedish natives could prove to have significant long-term consequences. With many refugees lacking access to housing options in less affordable neighbourhoods, there is an increasing level of segregation growing between migrants and natural citizens. As has occurred in other European nations, it is possible that this continued societal rift could lead to feelings of isolation among immigrant populations, and assist in cultivating negative attitudes towards those seeking asylum. Despite its historical roots as an open society and a global leader in cultural acceptance, up to 41% of Swedish citizens now believe the country has began accepting too many refugees. Sweden has also seen a rise in the popularity of anti-immigrant groups such as the Sweden Democrats, who have recently taken up place as the nations second largest political party.

In Germany, the country with the greatest number of refugees in Europe, migrants face similar challenges in finding meaningful work. While up to 90% of refugees have been reported to desire employment, a mere 13% surveyed had been successful in their search. Elsewhere in Europe, similar difficulties have been observed. In countries like France, Denmark, and Norway, there also exists a significant gap in employment between refugees and native citizens, and it is possible that these inequalities could lead to further socioeconomic challenges looking towards the future.

Boat Refugees Sculpture in Denmark | Carsten Fonsdal Mikkelsen

Although these challenges persist, a number of countries have begun to implement programs to assist their country’s migrants in entering into their national economy. In Germany, language courses across the country have been offered to refugees emigrating from nations such as Syria, Iraq, and Ethiopia. With upwards of €559 million being spent by the German government on the program, the nationwide budget for language courses has doubled. However, this funding can only provide for courses for approximately 25% of Syrian migrants to the country, and it is clear further progress needs to made in order to assist refugees in the transition process.

Ultimately, there are a number of challenges that present themselves to both refugees fleeing conflict, as well as the countries that host them. While providing assistance to those fleeing areas of conflict is crucial in saving lives, often both the host countries and refugees alike are unprepared for what lies ahead. In order to address these gaps in policy, it will be important that policy makers and economic advisers alike examine and better understand the needs of those seeking asylum. Furthermore, they must better formulate policy that will assist not only in the cultural acceptance of their refugee populations, but also in the establishment of programs that will enable their future economic success.

Feature Image: Blondinrikard Fröberg

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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Development aid and tackling austerity: exploring new COIN strategies for the future

Development aid and tackling austerity: exploring new COIN strategies for the future

In this article, Sam Griffith argues that exploring the potential of effective development aid overseas and tackling anger over austerity policies in the UK, offer distinct opportunities for tackling terrorism, in a debate that, at times, overwhelmingly revolves around undermining civil liberties.

In June, days before the general election, Prime Minister May spoke out against terrorism, stating that there was too much tolerance in British society towards extremism, noting that things had to change. Her speech was given after three men drove a van into people on London Bridge and within the wider context of two earlier attacks on Britain in the previous three months. She highlighted the importance of measures designed to stop extremists from recruiting online, changes to sentences and a crackdown on safe spaces for extremist attitudes. The logic behind such strategies is clear, albeit concerning for what it means for civil liberties.

However, this is standard practice for counter-terrorism. Just look to the civil liberties impositions inflicted by the likes of the Patriot Act or the UK’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. However, approaches to development arguably offer different and perhaps more efficient ways to tackle modern-day terrorism in ways that don’t undermine civil liberties. Yet, as May’s speech demonstrates, it isn’t a traditional approach to counter-terrorism, either abroad or at home. However, given the reality that the London Bridge attacker, for example, was a British national, alongside recent estimations reveal that 850 people from the UK have gone to fight for jihadist organisations, new approaches that focus on understanding how almost ten years of austerity policies have hurt and left behind the most vulnerable in society and look to address the grievances of people before distrust and hatred towards society takes hold, offers a different and perhaps more effective approach to tackling terrorism.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – Counter Terrorism Response Level: Heightened | Elliott Brown

The economic argument for investment in the form of development aid makes sense at an intuitive level. Hatred in societies often grows out of anger, which is born from frustration which develops most easily under conditions of poverty and deprivation. Despite UK foreign aid increasing from £12.1 billion to £13.3 billion, with the Middle East (Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon) receiving 40.8% of all of DFID’s region-specific bilateral ODA in 2016, it seems as though the ability for economic aid to combat foreign terrorism is limited.

There is a counter argument which revolves around the limitations of foreign aid provided by developed countries. Foreign aid doesn’t always get where it is needed most, as usually these societies are governed by corrupt dictatorships. This was the case in Turkey when widespread corruption meant humanitarian aid wasn’t getting into Syria. The problem seems to be that of governance rather than any inherent limitations to the logic of economic development aid.

However, a study by Brookings notes that the issue perhaps isn’t the role of aid at all. Economic development, while an important goal for countries struggling with poverty, can often increase inequality within a country. This role of inequality instead of poverty offers an initial explanation and suggestions for how to tackle terrorism not just abroad but at home.

Austerity Isn’t Working | Michael K. Donnelly

It is possible to criticise both May’s government and those that came before it for doing little to tackle the reasons why young people are radicalised. A situation over the last 7 years has occurred, shaped in part by the financial crisis and the implementation of austerity measures which has historically meant that young people particularly are worse off. This was the case in the UK when an analysis of official figures in 2015 found that young people (between 16-24) were three times more likely to be unemployed.

The Conservative strategy seems to echo that of the so-called American Dream, to tell young people they can achieve anything while simultaneously making it more difficult for them to get a university education or buy a house. This has led to mass disenfranchisement with the political system, which has been shown to be a factor that allows for extremism to take root. Problems regarding the integration of ethnic minorities into British society, notably demonstrated by the failings of the PREVENT programme which helped fuel distrust in Muslim communities.

While it’s impossible to say outright what the appeal is for those joining terrorist organisations, the relationship between economic inequality and the potential attraction of terrorist organisations seems more plausible when it is considered that the UK has a particularly high level of income inequality. The Equality Trust notes that the top 10% of the population have nine times that of the bottom 10% when it comes to disposable incomes.

Solutions for combating terrorism should be comprehensive and all avenues for tackling both foreign and home based terrorism should be explored. The debate about effective development aid should be discussed, not just because of what it means with regards to poverty reduction, but because investment in governance and civil society could be an effective tool at reducing the likelihood of extremism developing in the first place.

Feature Image: Tiocfaidh |Flickr

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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