Richard Harrington is MP for Watford and a Member of the DFID Select Committee.
It's rarely easy to be a defender of British aid – particularly to India and the last fortnight has proved especially hard. But neither the negative headlines and stories over our aid relations with India, nor even debating them with Rod Liddle in his video for the Sunday Times, could make me waver in my views that this Government is doing the right thing; in the interest of both British and Indian people.
The remarks being reported from the Government of India are out of date and were made during a parliamentary debate in 2010. To understand the value of aid, rather than reading the negative newspaper headlines and old quotes, we should listen to the views of people like B K Patnaik, Chief Secretary of Odisha, where UK aid is working, who said: "I have seen for myself how DFID support has reached thousands of children, women and men in Odisha. DFID has provided us solid support across a range of sectors – public sector governance, public finance, power, health, nutrition and education – all of which have helped us to grow and reduce poverty in the state. However, our job is by no means over. We need DFID's continued support to help us to change the lives of thousands more people for the better."
We should also listen to the dignitaries and business people who added their name to a letter to the Telegraph on Monday calling for aid to continue. People from William Cash MP to Pradip Dhamecha, CEO of Dhamecha Cash & Carry.
More compellingly, look at the number of individuals who British aid has helped in India; 2.3 million people out of poverty in rural areas in the last 5 years and more than 30,000 lives saved through TB treatment. DFID support over the past decade has helped India achieve zero polio transmissions in the last one year.
People cannot seem to marry the two faces on India, a significant player on the world stage and a country with more billionaires than any other, and the country that is home to a third of the world's poorest people. British aid is helping to bridge this gap. Andrew Mitchell has completely changed our approach in India. DFID is working in 3 of the poorest states and ensuring that about half of the programme focuses on pro-poor private sector investment – which has the characteristics of a sovereign wealth fund and from which India and the British taxpayer gain. I firmly believe that if people had a better understanding of the work that DFID does the criticisms would not be so strong.
Committing to give 0.7% of our total national income in foreign aid is comparable to someone on an average wage of £25,000 a year donating a total of £175 a year to charity. Similarly the continuing increase in charitable giving, even during the recession, puts paid to the anti-aid mantra of 'charity begins at home': if individuals continue to give when they are facing financial constraints, why shouldn't the Government?