Three short articles today. Little commentary from me. Just a few things to get you thinking.
Britain currently spends 0.7% of its gross national income on foreign aid. This may not sound like much, but in real terms this means that we spend about £12 billion per year, which represents 1.2% of our overall spending as a nation. To put this in context, we spend 5% of our overall spending on defence and about 12% on education. So 1.2% on foreign aid is not to be sniffed at. Indeed, Britain is the third most generous nation in absolute terms in the world, after the US and Germany, and the 6th in relative terms, behind Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and Germany. There are, in my opinion, some pretty wonderful countries in that list. Finally, 1 in every 8 pounds of aid spent globally comes from the UK.
This seems to be a cause for celebration, surely? We are, by anybody’s standards, a wealthy country in the world and we sense a duty to help others. We have grown up in a Judaeo-Christian framework; which in fact gives cause to argue for even more. In Biblical times people were supposed to give 10% of their own income to help others; many Jews, and others, follow this mantra closely still. However, there are many, perhaps understandably, who see that our hospitals and schools at home are underfunded and cannot understand why we give away £12 billion annually when we could do with it ourselves. Food for thought, perhaps.
We move to an article in the Sunday Times magazine this weekend on Queen Rania of Jordan, a globally famous lady. The queen was in fact a refugee. She was a Palestinian living in Kuwait when the first Gulf War erupted in 1991; her family fled to Jordan and were taken in in a kindly manner. She was an educated lady (she was taking an MBA in Cairo at the time), so she had quite a head start, but she was a refugee nevertheless. She met the future King of Jordan over a mutual friend’s dinner party – and the rest, as they say, is history. Jordan is in many ways a quite extraordinary place. It shares borders with Syria, Iraq and Israel, but, unlike many of its oil rich neighbours, it is a poor country. Indeed, it is one of the world’s five most water-short countries, would you believe. Recent wars have destroyed tourism to ancient sites like Petra, and unemployment among young people is 29%. It is also a small country, about the size of Hungary, and with a total population of 9.5 million people, just a million or so bigger than London. And now for the extraordinary statistic: despite their financial difficulties, despite their living in poverty in many cases, despite the war-torn region, amongst their 9.5 million people, they have 2.7 million refugees. It hosts the world’s biggest camp outside Africa, with 80,000 people in it. Proportionately, it is as if the UK took in the entire population of Holland. Indeed, in the recent Syrian conflict Jordan has taken 1.2 million refugees into their small poor country, more than the whole of Europe put together. In order to take in the refugees their debt to GDP ratio has skyrocketed to 90%. Over a quarter of their national budget goes to refugees. The Queen feels, understandably, passionate about this and is arguably one of the most philanthropic people on the planet. Jordan, of course, has lots of other issues, as we all do, but without any doubt it is leaving leading the way on this front.
And lastly to the U.K.’s response to the Syrian crisis. Whilst I think we can be proud to some extent of our humanitarian aid record, we do not set much of an example elsewhere. In the year and a half running up to December 2016, Britain had taken just 5,400 Syrian refugees in total. It has committed to accept 20,000 by the year 2020. Set this against small, poor Jordan’s 1.2 million! The reason given by our government is that we have chosen to give money rather than accepting refugees into our own country. There is undoubtedly truth in this, as we have donated almost £2.5 billion to Syrian refugees since the crisis began: which represents the second largest donation in the world.
One might infer, however, from some of this talk that we are rather better at giving money than personal kindness. And I think it might be worth just chewing that over for a while.