Mo Ali, Amy Barnes, Sam Ramsden & Simon Rushton

Foreign aid is regularly headline news. The fundraising appeal following Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013, was one of the best supported of recent years. Yet only a few weeks later the popular press, including the Mail on Sunday were reporting that UK aid was failing to reach those most in need.

A third of the population of India lives below the global poverty line of $1.25 per day, but the recent launching of an Indian mission to Mars reignited a debate over whether the UK should continue providing development aid to the Indian government.

Similarly, the UK government’s decision to increase the budget of the Department for International Development amidst the implementation of austerity-driven cuts across the majority of other government departments, has prompted debate over whether the UK spends too much on assisting other countries.

We know that public perceptions of the foreign aid budget can be dramatically out of line with reality. In a survey carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London in June 2013, respondents were asked “Which two or three, if any, of the following areas do you think the UK Government spends the most money on?” 26% of respondents selected foreign aid – more than selected education and schools (on which the government actually spends over six times as much – £51.54bn vs £7.87bn in 2011-12) and more than selected pensions (on which the government actually spends almost ten times as much – £74.22bn).

But what do future voters think about humanitarian and development aid? Do they think that we have a duty to lend assistance to countries struggling to recover from natural disasters? Do they think we should be providing aid to emerging economies like India? And how do they think we should deliver aid in those cases where we do want to help?

As part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Sciences, academics from SIID alongside experienced international aid workers convened an interactive workshop bringing together year 11 and 12 students from across the Sheffield city region to examine some of these big issues in humanitarian and development aid.

In the first part of the session students were asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with a number of controversial statements around development aid – and to explain their reasons why. We found a wide variety of opinions amongst the participants. Some, for example, felt that as a relatively wealthy country the UK has a moral duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves, whilst others felt that the UK should prioritise dealing with those living in poverty here before sending money abroad. We found similarly differing views over political priorities; for example, over whether we should prioritise immediate problems such as food shortages, or long-term challenges like climate change.

Despite differing positions on these questions, the students were thoughtful about the issues at stake, well-informed about international development issues, and articulate in explaining their views. They were engaged in discussing issues relating to social justice that face us as social scientists and development practitioners – and thus the issues that we would hope future voters care about.

This remained the case during the second part of the workshop. We asked participants to take part in a disaster relief scenario – making decisions as to whether to deliver humanitarian aid to a refugee camp through a local community-based NGO, a major international NGO, or the national government. The students worked in groups to carry out a needs assessment based on video statements about the humanitarian emergency. They then had to consider challenges of aid effectiveness – how to ensure that their money reached those who needed it most, and how to ensure that it delivered the maximum possible benefit; in short, some of the most pressing issues facing the development community.

The students decided to deliver the majority of the ‘aid’ to the local and international NGOs, with the national government (whose level of commitment to the welfare of the refugee camp inhabitants was doubted by some groups) receiving a far smaller proportion of the aid allocated. In making their decisions, they grappled with many of the complicated issues that continue to be a focus for research in the social sciences and for development practitioners in the field: issues of potential corruption, trust, local knowledge and experience, and monitoring and accountability.

As we move towards a new post-2015 era of international development, it is vital that young people are engaged in and aware of issues around global poverty, development aid and humanitarian assistance. Our evidence from this Festival of Social Sciences event suggests that, in this respect at least, we have reason to be optimistic.

Future plans
We are currently working on plans to roll out a program of similar workshops to schools and colleges across the Sheffield City region – including a longer-format workshop that will allow participants to delve even more deeply into the issues of aid and development. If you are interested in this programme of work, please contact one of us:
Mo Ali, Aid Works –
Amy Barnes, University of Sheffield-
Simon Rushton, University of Sheffield-

Follow @SIIDgroup for details of forthcoming events.


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