Monday 22 November 2010

Spare change in the European Union's pocket

First of all, I would like to write the following waiver to this post: I am not an economist, accountant or financial guru. I have never studied economics, I don't work in the field and truth be told, I have very little interest in the world of finance and economics, either at home or abroad. The closest I come to an opinion is noticing the rising inflation when buying meat in Argentina; or wondering how people can now afford to fill their cars in the UK.

That was, until last night when I was doing the ironing and listening to the radio. The main news was that Ireland had finally looked to the European Union and International Monetary Fund to help solve their dire economic straits.

Then, this morning there was a debate on the same radio about whether it was right that the £7 billion the UK had saved with all the cuts was now heading over the Irish Sea to help with the bail out. Many Brits were extremely disgruntled about this, while others recognised that helping our Irish friends meant helping us in the long term. Ireland is our biggest trading partner in Europe. Our contribution is part of a package from Europe of around £77 billion in total (source: Telegraph, Guardian, Reuters).

My reaction last night was also a negative one; but not because I think my taxes should stay in the Uk helping myself and my fellow neightbours out. I was angry because, with many European countries in or coming out of a recesion (from my understanding) what I do not see is how, yet again, the EU can search its pockets and find billions of Euros in loose change to bail out floudering countries with breaking banks. And this is when, only on the other side of the Mediterrean, a fraction of this could end hunger for millions.

The United Nation's Food and Agricultre organisation has estimated that $30 billion a year would end hunger in the world. That's a lot less than the cheque heading Ireland's way. This amount would launch agritcultural and food programmes where needed in the world to solve global food insecurity. And once they were underway, the financial support needed year on year would be less and less. $30 billion to build foundations that will last and feed mouths for generations to come: can the EU check it's back pocket for more loose change and send it over there?

It was pleasing to hear that the UK's foreign aid donations were not part of the cuts. We are a country able to help and we should. So then, using those cuts to help save Ireland leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. But again, not because I want it in my pocket, but because a fraction of it could wipe out Kenya's debt to us. Kenya has a total debt of $6 billion and owes the UK £20 million. This is a country with an average daily wage of £1. And our money has gone to a country with an average daily wage of approximately 90 Euros a day (source: figures from and websites). And there are many other examples aside from Kenya. Politically, socially and morally, I can't see a logical argument for this.

I am not living in Ireland right now, and so am not experiencing their troubles. However, I cannot imagine they are worse than the farmers in Pakistan trying to recover from the recent floods and feed their families, or the droughts which affect farmers from Bolivia to Somalia, or the lack of cultivable land in many parts of Asia. When they need spare change, more agencies step in than governments, often including their own.

The next time someone needs some spare change, you could walk on by. You could think of the banks in this rich country of ours which have possibly failed them. You could think of real men, women and children who are far, far away, not asking for it. Or you could just put your hand in your pocket and see what's there to give. It doesn't matter if they don't run as deep as the EU's.

I guess just putting your hand in and not leaving it there is what really counts.

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