Much has been made recently of the UK government’s decision to reduce the Foreign Aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income from its usual level of 0.7%. While times are indeed hard due to the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic (and potentially due to get harder as a result of Brexit), this holds for nearly every country in the world at the moment. However, hardship for the UK is on a different level than hardship for countries in the developing world. We are fortunate enough to live in a place where we are both able and willing to fund our Public Borrowing. Other governments are not as well set up or lack the political desire to support those most in need.
According to the World Economic Forum, under the Principled Aid Index, the UK is the second most generous nation from the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. So what impact will this 0.2% reduction have on tackling caste-based discrimination? While it’s difficult to quantify, we can put it in perspective. The top recipient of Foreign Aid from the UK in 2019 was Pakistan, while Bangladesh lay in 6th position and India in 17th – countries where the Dalit community requires the most help. Consequently, there is no doubt that a drop in foreign aid will mean that life will get most difficult for those most in need.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (a member of the APPG for Dalits), recently asked what assessment the government made of reports that minorities are being persecuted in India, which has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the marginalisation of the Dalit community. In response, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that the human rights situation is continually assessed, and that in 2016-18 they funded a project in Uttar Pradesh empowering 400 Dalit human rights defenders to challenge discrimination and violence against Dalit women. It is devastating to think that projects such as these risk being cancelled because of the cut in foreign aid funding.
Previously we were among the few countries that have hit the UN’s target of 0.7%, but we are also in an exceptionally fortunate position: we have unemployment benefits for those laid off, as most workers are registered and on contracts of one sort or another, and we have a number of incredible charities that provide shelter, food banks and clothing for those most in need. Of course, it’s not perfect, but in the UK you rarely hear of people starving to death, dying because of poor sanitation or being denied access to help just because of their caste. The same cannot be said of those countries where caste-based discrimination occurs – they are the most vulnerable at the best of times, and suffer the most at the worst of times. One can only hope that the government’s reduction in Foreign Aid will be very, very temporary.