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A decisive vote for the world’s poorest children

In today’s Daily Telegraph, political editor Andrew Porter implies that a recent UK poll – in which nearly half of those surveyed were supportive of the overseas aid agenda – is illustrative of the public’s lack of support for aid.

The evidence doesn’t support his conclusion.

The Downing Street poll, asked voters whether they agreed with the statement that “even as we deal with our deficit, Britain is still one of the wealthiest countries in the world and we should be proud that we’re continuing our commitment to international development.” In total 48 per cent agreed with that statement and 38 disagreed, while the remaining 14 per cent did not know.

If this were an election, 48% versus 38% would be seen as pretty decisive.

Generous

To date the British public has raised £40 million for the Disaster Emergency Committee’s East Africa appeal. In general, the British public is the third most generous in the world in charitable donations.

This demonstrates more powerfully than any poll that most people in Britain are not ‘Little Englanders’ solely focused on our own wellbeing. We want the government to stick by its promise to help those in need, and we want to help too, because comparatively we can afford it and it’s the right thing to do.

A lot of the opposition to aid spending that does exist is the result of two misunderstandings.

First, many people have a massively inflated sense of how much we’re giving. A recent street survey, conducted by ONE, showed that most people believe that we’re giving a huge percentage of the UK budget to aid, as opposed to the reality – less than 1%. When this is clearly expressed, and people realise that the government’s contribution is less than a penny in every pound, opinions tend to shift.

Second, a lot of opposition to aid is based on a generalised concern about aid being wasted and failing to deliver demonstrable results. But, in Save the Children’s experience, when you show that aid is having a positive impact, that it saves children’s lives, people tend to be very supportive.

Aid works

Fortunately there’s a mountain of evidence to support the case for aid, from smallpox eradication to the drive to get children into primary school in many African countries.

The UK’s financial contribution to the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), for example, will vaccinate one child every two seconds for the next four years, immunising 80 million children in all and saving 1.4 million lives.

Remarkable gains

Often, opposition to aid reflects a wider perception that nothing has improved in the poorest countries. But as forthcoming research from Save the Children UK and UNICEF will demonstrate, there have been remarkable gains in wellbeing in recent decades.

Since 1990 the total number of child deaths has decreased from 12.5 million every year to 8 million. In the last decade, the number of children not attending school has fallen by 33 million, or one third.

These changes are not only down to aid, but they wouldn’t have progressed as far or as fast without it.

Seeing is believing

UK NGOs, like Save the Children, and the wider development community have an obligation to engage more effectively with the public. We need to show how aid is being spent and what it is achieving.

As a recent YouGov survey served to demonstrate, the majority of people get behind aid when they can see its results. According to the survey 52% of those who know about specific aid projects are pro-aid, as opposed to only 36% of those who hadn’t heard of any specific projects.

We need to show how aid works, not only to secure UK public support, but to build better, more equal futures for everyone, around the world.

Read our briefing Aid Works

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