Leader of the 0.7 percenters

According to the latest OECD data, there are only 5 wealthy industrialized democracies who meet the gabled target of 0.7% of national income contributed as development assistance: Norway (1.07%), Sweden (1.05%), Luxembourg (1.00%), Denmark (%0.85) and the United Kingdom (%0.72). In absolute terms, the UK contributes more foreign aid than the other four 0.7 percenters combined, making it the most important donor in Europe.

These days it is hard to find aid budgets rising, but that is exactly what they did in the UK, with a 27% increase in 2012-13 despite the economic crunch. The factors behind this counter-intuitive trend are basically political: there is a strong consensus among the top political elite of Britain that a big foreign aid footprint is a good thing, because helping others is the right thing to do or -more pragmatically- because it helps the country “punch above its weight” in international affairs. Despite relentless criticism from some corners of the isolationist right at home, and despite a constant questioning of the effectiveness of aid in fostering development, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) not only spends a lot of aid money, but contributes the most of all donors to understanding why aid works or not (disclaimer: ESID is funded by DFID, but we are intellectually independent).

All of this explains why I work in Britain and not in the United States, where aid is the punching bag of Congress, or Spain, where aid is a feel-good bureaucratic mess: ESID would not -could not- exist in either of those countries, and even if it did the chances are no-one would have hired a foreign political scientist for an applied development studies position. Much of my research entails questioning or criticizing DFID in one way or another, but at the end of the day they are the cream of the crop: the UK is more often than not an aid leader, and that is something to be celebrated.