Public opinion is increasingly behind international development

Photo: Maxiphoto

Increasing majority of UK public believe in the importance of aid

9 March 2016

A huge and increasing majority of people in the UK support aid to developing countries according to a new poll. The public also think that tackling poverty overseas should be one of the main priorities of the EU, according to the Europe-wide survey.

The study, which was carried out by the the EU's polling organisation Eurobarometer, found that 55% of those surveyed in the UK believe the EU should keep its promise to raise aid to developing countries, while 14% think it should increase beyond existing commitments.

Eighty-six percent of UK respondents agree that helping people in developing countries is important, compared to 82% last year – 44% felt it was "very important", 42% felt it was "fairly important". Only 3% felt it was "not at all important".

British public opinion is often assumed to be hostile to development aid, but this survey shows that we are a more generous nation than some people think

Respondents in the UK were more likely than the EU average to agree that individuals can play a part in tackling poverty in developing countries (63% v 52%). They were also prepared to pay more for groceries or products from developing countries to support people (64% v 50%), and more likely to give money to NGOs or charities helping developing countries (33% v 23%).

Ben Jackson, CEO of Bond said: "UK development aid saves and changes lives every day. British public opinion is often assumed to be hostile to development aid, but this survey shows that we are a more generous nation than some people think. We witness the public support represented in this survey daily in our work.

"The bottom-line is that ordinary people want politicians to continue to keep our development aid promise to countries like Syria and help those most affected by tackling the root causes of poverty and conflict," he added.

Last year, the government enshrined the 0.7% commitment in law as part of its strategy for "a healthier, more stable and increasingly prosperous world".

However, the refugee crisis has reopened the debate over how and where the UK spends its aid budget and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development development assistance committee (OECD DAC) recently agreed a new definition of aid which allows some military and security spending in fragile states to be included. The move was criticised by charities concerned that the new rules risk money being diverted from the poorest people, and by the UN's development chief, Helen Clark, who said it could even undermine the stability of the least developed countries.

Neven Mimica, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, told the Guardian that the survey showed how much EU citizens care about development. "Almost nine out of ten respondents think that helping developing countries is important, while more than seven out of ten agree that tackling poverty in developing countries has a positive influence on EU citizens," he said.

"So at a time when Europe is challenged to make the case of its relevance to its citizens, we should seize this opportunity and make sure that we show the results of what we do, the impact it has on the ground, the difference it makes to the lives of people and how it benefits Europe’s values and interests."
The poll of 27,672 Europeans included 1,321 Britons and was conducted from 28 November to 7 December 2015.