There is a box in the Emirates Stadium that cost £30m. It wasn’t paid for by Arsenal’s owners. It wasn’t paid for by a Russian oligarch. It wasn’t even a retirement gift for Arsene Wenger.
It was paid for indirectly by you – through the UK’s Department for International Development. It is the box of Rwanda’s tyrannical dictator Paul Kagame, who last year received £62m of your money in aid and decided to spend £30m of it on a sponsorship deal for his favourite football club.
This is just the latest example of how aid is wasted at a time when our health and social care system is creaking so badly the Prime Minister has been forced to pledge an extra £20bn a year of spending – leaving the Treasury wondering how to fund it.
Well, here’s a radical idea. Let’s use the money wasted on aid to ensure that our NHS and social care system has the funding it so badly needs.
Whether it is the £32m a year awarded to ‘fat cat’ bosses at Oxfam who covered up the most despicable abuses or the £5.2m spent promoting an Ethiopian girl band – there is a lot wasted on aid that would be better spent on UK health and social care.
Of course, there are many amazing and worthwhile projects we support around the world providing essential support to those in need. However, the legitimacy of our entire aid budget is undermined by repeated stories of such ridiculous misuse of public money.
Misuse which can all be traced back to a single ill-conceived policy.
That is committing 0.7% of national income to aid. With a growing global economy, one person from the developing world escapes poverty every second of every day. Regardless, we will mechanically increase aid spending every year.
Rising from £13bn a year today to around £15bn a year by 2021, the Department for International Development finds itself with an embarrassment of riches. It has ever more money to spend but ever fewer poverty-stricken people to spend it on. Little wonder we end up supporting some ludicrous and morally dubious projects.
If only we spent this money – our money – to save our struggling health and social care services.
A lot of the strain on our NHS stems from the crisis in social care. Our ageing population means we are in desperate need of new care home beds. Yet we are losing care home spaces at a growing rate each year. Lack of investment by Government and stretched local authorities means desperately-needed care homes are closing around the country.
This is exacerbated by a continuing shortage of nurses and care workers – made worse by the 23% fall in nursing course applications following removal of the nurse training bursary. We have previously relied on workers from around the world coming to the UK – however, there has been a 90% decline in the arrival of EU nurses since the referendum and an increase in those returning home.
These twin crises, a lack of spaces and staff, mean that bed blocking now costs the NHS over £3bn and wastes around one million hospital bed days a year. Older patients who should be released into care homes or provided with home care packages remain on wards as the social care system lacks the capacity to look after them.
Our health and social care system is in desperate need of rescue.
Nobody is denying our duty to help the most vulnerable people in the world – however this obligation includes helping the most vulnerable people in the UK too.
The aim of spending 0.7% of national income means we spend much more on aid than our European partners, where the average is around 0.5%. Nobody would accuse the Netherlands (0.6%), France (0.4%), or Ireland (0.3%), of being heartless countries failing to meet their moral obligations.
If we were to match the European average, we could still fund the essential programmes we support around the world – but officials would not be required to spend £15m on reducing the flatulence of Colombian cattle simply to meet the arbitrary 0.7% target.
That would mean by 2020 around £4.5bn a year extra would be available for social care. That would have a transformative impact on the sector. For example, £3.9bn could pay for around an additional 240,000 care assistants, with £600m left over to restore the nursing bursary.
There is a raging argument within Government around how to raise your taxes to pay for our health and social care needs. Well, here is a way to help save our NHS and social care system while restoring sanity and moral legitimacy to our aid budget – with the added benefit of avoiding “too many” new taxes on already hard-pressed families. It’s a win-win policy – if only there were politicians brave enough to pursue it.
Robert D. Kilgour is a Scottish entrepreneur. He founded Four Seasons Health Care in 1988, building it into the UK’s fifth largest care home operator before he left the company in 2000. Robert also founded the Scottish online political think-tank thinkscotland.org and has served on both the CBI Scotland Council and the UK CBI SME Council.