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UK Aid Match – Should the public have a say?

July 6, 2011

On 30th June DFID launched ‘Aid Match’, which is, in its own words:

 A demand-led fund which will match public donations to appeals for projects focused on poverty reduction and the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals

Once accepted into the scheme,  DFID agrees to match all funds raised during a public fundraising appeal by a UK based NGO. To qualify, the appeal must be expected to raise at least £100,000, and achieve 400,000 opportunities.

The purpose of the scheme, according to DFID is ‘to allow the UK public to have a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent on NGO projects’

The scheme is the latest tool used by the Government in its push towards ‘accountability’ of, and public confidence in, aid spending. Although arguably focusing too much on a results and numbers based agenda in its current form, accountability – both to the British public, and arguably, more importantly to beneficiaries, is an important goal. Publishing data on the projects DFID funds was a valuable, and symbolic step in public access to aid spending information. Similarly, in an era of intense spending cuts to the UK public sector, arguing for maintaining spending on aid is a tricky, and important task.

Should, however, the British public have a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent, particularly when this is not the case with UK public spending? Before coming to power, the UK Conservative party announced that, if elected, they would launch a scheme called ‘MyAid’ in which UK citizens could vote for the funding of different international development projects, depending on their perceived need. I haven’t heard anymore about the old scheme, but the new Aidmatch is working upon the same basis, just instead of voting in an online project poll, it is asking the public to vote with its purse-strings.

The scheme is a great fundraising opportunity for certain charities which have the capacity to launch large appeals, and which are fundraising for projects which have a clear cut ‘result’ and appeal in the eyes of the public. DFID gives as an example of a project which could launch an appeal for funding the distribution of bed nets – what could be considered by voters as a nice clear cut issue, a way to immediately save lives, yet which has many possible pitfalls, not least use of the bed nets for their intended purposes. Is the provision of legal assistance and support to victims of domestic violence, or trafficking, likely to gain as many votes however? Evidence on the amount of public support sexual violence charities are able to galvanize in the UK, compared to animal charities, suggests not.

By launching AidMatch, DFID is allocating a portion of spending of public money over towards the public’s inherent biases, and the capability of an organisation’s public relations and fundraising team. These are issues with which the fundraising departments of NGOs no doubt have to deal with every day when sourcing public donations, but, if the Government really wants to increase confidence in aid spending, DFID should take a long step back from.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2011 3:36 pm

    >> Should, however, the British public have a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent, particularly when this is not the case with UK public spending?

    The UK public already has a very significant direct say in UK public spending, through the Gift Aid mechanism — which foregoes tax revenue to amplify any charitable donation by about 25%. Charities lobbies for this and very much welcome money being given over to the public’s inherent biases.

    ‘Aid Match’ at £30m, is just 3% of the £1billion going into Gift Aid each year, so is very small potatoes in comparison. It’s much too late to disagree with this kind of approach. And indeed in the fine print, the Aid Match mechanism has much more DFID decision making in it than Gift Aid.

  2. July 20, 2011 3:50 pm

    Cynan, point taken – The angle I should have perhaps taken is what purpose is this really serving? What annoys me about the scheme is not the fact that ‘the public have a say’, I am not necessarily against this and certainly include myself in the category of people who have inherent biases for charitable giving, but that for me is too gimmicky – it is not encouraging the public to think about the complexities behind these issues, nor is it necessarily going to increase public interest and confidence. Gift aid doesn’t do this either, but I don’t see it as attempting to do so. My question with AidMatch is really, what is this for? What purpose does it actually serve?

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