Should the UK give aid to India?

India: rich or poor? Photo from:

UPDATE: As we know, the UK Government is winding down aid to India.  We filmed Kennedy, from our Indian partner EFICOR, explaining why he thinks the UK should give aid to India.  Check out the 2 minute video clip here:

1. Is the Indian government responsible for its own people?

Yes.  All governments are ultimately responsible for their own people.  Aid money to India has helped their government reduce poverty levels from 60% in 1981 to 42% in 2005.[1]  However, there are still more poor people in India than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.  The UK is tapering down its support over the next three years and will stop giving aid to India in 2015.  If the UK abruptly stopped giving money without this tapering process, it would run the risk of undoing the poverty reduction progress which has been achieved. UK money is being refocused, especially on to job creation which will help the poorest people stand on their own feet.

2. Does aid to India work?

In one Indian district, the Indian government launched a Sick Newborn Care Unit with the support of UK aid in 2003.  Since then, the region has seen a steady decline in newborn deaths, with baby deaths at the unit cut by 30 per cent between 2007-2009 alone.[2]  There’s always room for improvement in all project management and UK aid is monitored by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact to make sure its programmes are as effective as possible.  The International Development Select Committee – who scrutinise UK aid spend – found that UK aid to India was sufficiently effective to continue it until 2015, when they agreed with the decision to cease the programmes.[3]

3. Should we give money to a country with its own space programme?

In the UK we expect to hold our government to account for their spending – that’s why we’re having all these debates about the government’s aid budget.  Indian citizens also need to hold their government to account to check they’re spending money on the really important things.  However, if you have never been to school, don’t have access to a radio or TV and don’t have good physical health, it is rather more difficult to hold your government to account.  The UK funds projects which improve people’s education and health, but also give them the tools to make sure they can monitor their government’s spending choices – for example helping poor people to gain access to safe water and sanitation in Madhya Pradesh.[4]

4. Should aid result in better military contracts for the UK?

We all probably quite favour the approach of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.  On that basis, if we give aid to India we might expect them to buy military equipment from Britain out of gratitude if nothing else.  However, if the UK says on the one hand that we want India to fight corruption, we can’t on the other hand say they should award big military contracts on the basis of a back-room hand shake, instead of a transparent tendering process.  If we don’t give aid on the basis of need and poverty reduction, then we shouldn’t give it at all.


  1. Lovelylife19 says:

    “In the UK we expect to hold our government to account for their spending – that’s why we’re having all these debates about the government’s aid budget. Indian citizens also need to hold their government to account to check they’re spending money on the really important things. However, if you have never been to school, don’t have access to a radio or TV and don’t have good physical health, it is rather more difficult to hold your government to account. ”

    It is exactly for this reason that India does not WANT aid from Britain (funny how you managed to change it to should Britain GIVE aid to India..). Going by your article one would think we all live in the jungle while Britain has everything all dainty and going for it. Until Britain leaves its “fresh-off-colonialism” attitude it can never succeed in maintaining a good relationship with its former colonies which slight it every day. (read America, India)

    Its a bit rich of Britons to preach lessons of Government accountability to India, given your Government is hosting the Olympics on borrowed money in the face of a recession, buys more and more nuclear submarines despite millions facing unemployment, and pleading with USA to be taken as a ride-along for a war in Iran.

    Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones (give unsolicited aid/advice) at others.

    • sarahhulme says:

      Thanks for the comment lovelylife. And apologies – at no point did I wish to imply in the blog that I think you “all live in the jungle while Britain has everything all dainty and going for it”. As you’ve pointed out, Britain has many problems! I should have written that part of the post to show I was referring to the poorest areas, where aid money is being targeted. Can I turn your question back on you? Do you think that in India, everyone “has everything all dainty and going for [them]”? And if not, should their lives be improved in some way? The next question would then be who is responsible for doing that. As I said in the blog, I believe it’s the Indian government’s responsibility. However, I think it would be irresponsible for Britain to suddenly stop its aid without giving the government a chance to take over those services – that wouldn’t help anyone! I agree this should be done in an attitude of humility and mutual learning which I’m aware has not always been the face of Britain presented to the world…

  2. BritIndian says:

    I agree with most of the points raised in this article and applaud you for sticking to the facts.
    It would be unfair to assume that aid money alone reduced the poverty levels from 60% to 42%. The Indian government has contributed substantially in achieving this. They could have reduced poverty further if it wasn’t for the endemic corruption prevalent within the Indian government and the resulting inefficiencies.
    This brings me to my next point. I don’t think Britain should continue the aid program to India. The Indian government has more than enough resources to make-up for the shortfall. What needs to change is the corruption and that is for the Indians to deal with, not the British or anyone else.
    I know a lot of people have brought up the issue of defence spending and the Indian space program. I grew up in India and witnessed one war fought in my lifetime (Kargil). There have been numerous other armed conflicts before that. India is a nation that is under the constant threat of terrorism, both from internal and external entities. It would be foolish of the Indians to not spend money on defending its population from attack. Yes there is unbelievable poverty in India. But what good is reducing poverty by a 100% if there are no people left? The space program is an issue where I haven’t been able to make up my mind, one way or another. It is extremely expensive and the money could be used for other purposes. However it is providing employment to thousands of people.
    Regarding your last point: I couldn’t agree more. Expecting arms deals in return for aid is the definition of corruption, and if that is indeed the case we should call it a bribe.

    • sarahhulme says:

      Hi BritIndian, thanks for your comment.
      I absolutely agree the Indian government has done a tremendous job in bringing down poverty levels – apologies if the blog sounded as if British aid had done more than contribute towards that success. I take your point about military/development expenditure – I guess that’s a tension every state wrestles with. When it comes to corruption, I would absolutely agree with what you say: tackling it must be done by those affected. However, do you think that external aid can speed this process up? In areas of India where human development indicators are so low, and the time it takes for things to change can therefore be literally life or death for people, it seems to me like we should be trying to effect change as fast as possible. And that’s where I feel the catalytic function of aid still makes a difference. What do you think?

      • BritIndian says:

        Hi Sarah,
        Frankly I don’t see how external aid can speed up the process of tackling corruption. Aid helps poverty certainly, however my point is that if the Indian government had the will they could easily find the resources to replace the British aid. I honestly feel that the reason behind India’s slow progress in uplifting the poorest is the apathy of the ruling classes and the well-to-do. The picture used in the blog being just one example of said apathy. I think more than aid what could help is a change in attitudes. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how this can be achieved.
        I do agree that simply pulling the plug may not be a good idea. May I in turn ask: do you think that when the British aid program winds down in 2015 the situation will be any different to what it would be now if the aid was stopped??

      • sarahhulme says:

        Hi BritIndian,
        I agree with you that the apathy of the ruling classes and well-to-do is probably the biggest problem now facing India’s poorest (and indeed, the poorest in every country). But how will those attitudes change? Surely they will only change if those who are affected make that happen. And if those affected don’t have the education, health, infrastructure to make that happen then they’re no further forward. The ruling classes are unlikely to help them, because they don’t see it as being in their own interest!

        And that’s where I think international aid can come in – it can multiply the efforts already taking place. Are you familiar with ? An amazing civil society initiative, already forcing change across the country and exactly the kind of thing DFID were recommended to support more (page 13, That’s why in Tearfund’s recent corruption report ( we argued that donors must work to support citizens and communities who have played, and could play, their part in the fight against corruption.

        If this is the approach you take, then an extra three years can make all the difference! Three extra years of capacity building can kick in – especially to ensure the sustainability of projects. At the most basic level, it gives organisations who rely on funding the chance to approach others, rather than simply having to shut down…

  3. To your query.. Should the UK give aid to India? .. In our culture there is saying.. “neki kar dariya mein daal” .. translates into.. do good deeds without expecting anything in return.. people making donations are not supposed to speak about it even.. maybe its a culture thing.. well this I am saying about the ideal Indian context.. most Indians wudnt care donating to the poor.. So the UK would do good to donate only if it can afford too.. with no real expectation in return.. else you guys end up looking pretty ugly in the Indian context.. already not many in this world percieve you guys in good light.. colonalism.. cunningness.. etc.. I work in the international IT space and there is a real perception of you guys being big time racists.. even amonsgt fellow europeans.. lolz 🙂

    About.. whether India needs aid.. I do see a lot of poverty around.. but the picture is definately improving.. every bit of aid provided with respect is welcome.. this place does have a lot of potential but our leaders elected by a deeply fragmented society (on castiest, religious, lingustic lines) fail us.. our leaders are not elected on merit.. but based on who can exploit this divide better.. however i am an optimist.. and by looking at the pace of things this place should rock the world within a generation or two.. on our way if we get real good leaders (elected on merit at governance) we shall reach there in a decades time..

    Good Luck miss Sarah.. I am afraid.. you guys would soon become irrelevant like a slovakia under a **** load of asians integrating into the global economy.. with no voice and morality to lecture us or pass snide racist comments, blogs

    First they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they fight us, then we win
    – MK Gandhi

    • sarahhulme says:

      Hi Chanakya and thanks for the comment.
      You seem to be commenting on two things here – what are Britain’s motives for giving aid and the international perceptions of the UK? So here’s my starters for 10. I very much like the saying you have translated for us here. International aid has obviously had a pretty chequered history and in times gone by certainly wouldn’t have been given without donors expecting something in return. However, in 2002 the International Development Act was passed in the UK which meant that all aid could ONLY be given if poverty reduction was its focus. There will be some amongst the British public who expect to see something in return. That saddens me, but it doesn’t stop the fact that aid itself will not be given unless poverty reduction is the focus. As you yourself then said: “every bit of aid provided with respect is welcome”. I suppose I would see UK aid as being within that category. And I very much hope that as you say: “this place should rock the world within a generation or two” – I would love to see every citizen of every country in the world (including the UK) not having to die or have their life shortened because they can’t access sufficient food, water, medicine, education etc.

      Secondly, how the Brits are perceived in the international community. I question your tone but I take your wider point. As with every country in the world, some British people have odious views. However, I’m not particular sure that this should be a factor in considering whether or not aid should be given to/received by India, provided it is – as you say – provided with respect and with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

  4. It seems comments made about international aid being a ‘peanut’ in the indian parliament last year, in context of what it spends itself or sends out to poorer countries, has caused pandemonium. Our angry reactions have been knee jerk, and the indians have got naturally defensive, its hilarious. I couldn’t sit with a straight face and call it one sided .. it seems the DFID operate solely to justify their position overseas rather than benefit aid recipients they’re paid to deploy. There’s no denying the mind blowing poverty, exploitation and inability to hold anyone accountable that exists in India and many other countries, surely aiding and abetting corrupt practices isn’t our definition of aid? Till we get our notions of ‘helping others’ correct to suit 21st century practices, its not really our place to question any other government’s accountability towards its citizens, and especially when we can’t afford it surely charity begins at home! Focus on India’s reasons for refusing aid rather than the its honesty, is our biggest stumbling block. Our colonial hangover blinds us to an indian government’s immense effort on reducing poverty, which has been a major and uphill struggle over 60 years only starting to take effect; we don’t get the bigger picture here, our tunnel vision focusses on indian corruption within its internal aid measures instead of our own corrupt british DFID intent on saving its face. How can our armchair po-faced concern about poverty be taken seriously when rather than grasp their poverty elimination progress, we patronise an independent country mature enough to make its decisions and capable of aiding others financially. Responsibility from other governments is nothing short of lucrative financial ‘business’ which has led us to war in the past, but we never learn.

    • sarahhulme says:

      Hi Mehtc, thanks for the comment.
      I’m glad you highlighted that these comments were made over a year ago, and have of course been officially rebutted by Indian ministers since (see here). Unfortunately, I think you’re probably right about a knee jerk reaction. My fear is that this knee jerk reaction could produce potentially life or death situations for those who benefit from aid. As I said in responses to other comments, the Indian government has indeed done a tremendous amount to see poverty reduced. I think I’d disagree with you that aid to India assists corrupt practices – have a look at some of the links in the blog to see why. And as I said in another response, I think aid can be the catalyst for citizens to hold their governments to account – it’s not the be all and end all. It’s surely precisely because we take seriously the Indian progress that we say we’ll support the final efforts and then happily step away in 2015? But let’s not lose sight of the other programmes DFID fund in India in addition to these; things like education, healthcare, job creation…

  5. Thank you for getting back, in response to the questions ‘does aid in India still work or should it be tied up with military contracts’, transparency through official responses from the indian government rather than DFID promotional website should be the deciding factor.

    In blight affected areas such as Bihar and Orissa has poverty intricately sewn with corruption but also in direct scale to it, lies fertile ground for aid tied to strings with expectation of long term trade (of much higher yield). This not only goes with the territory but also seems to win local elections; whilst sincere work of DFID is to be applauded it leaves no doubt this kind of overseas aid carries mostly its own weight of bureaucracy. The public sector is steadily shrinking under its divestment politics, and project management is no longer flavour of the season. It would look better on our part to get genuine aid disengaged from this process, if only for the benefit of those needing it instead of beneficiaries from its lucrative trade. We’ll just have to agree to disagree about defining aid in this context (whether to India or at home) which assists corrupt practices.


  1. […] The Lords again raise the question of whether UK aid should go to countries like India.  My colleague Sarah recently set out the arguments for this here. […]

  2. […] and sustainable development goals; land grabs and tax dodgers; debate about whether we should give aid to India or to Rwanda; and a new focus on inequality – in the international development NGO bubble, at […]

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