Guernsey is a very giving island. With 100s of registered charities in a population of 62,000, no one can doubt our generosity. However, it does come as something of a shock to find that in the last 20 years, Guernsey has also donated £43 million in overseas aid – from tax revenues (source: Richard Digard, Voices, Guernsey Evening Press). Now, prior to ‘Zero-10’, Guernsey was actually doing pretty well financially and so maybe an average of £1,000 per taxpayer might have seemed affordable. With dire warnings of imminent tax rises on the horizon from P&R in this month’s States Meeting (and from Deputy Trott most particularly), should we still be sending substantial sums of Islander’s money overseas – rather than doing as much as we can for locals who face in-work poverty themselves?
Nobody disputes that great benefits will have undoubtedly arisen from this aid. Nobody would wish for there to be a need for overseas aid in an ideal world at all. But here’s the thing: we entrust our elected representatives to spend our taxes appropriately. Charity is a very personal matter. Generally, we all give when asked or indeed, we make regular donations to those organisations that we feel affinity for – if we can afford it. Overseas aid however, should not be statutory with taxpayer funds – at any time, let alone when money is tight for many in our own community. This assembly committed Islanders to some 3% of GDP only last year and the budget for 2019 was nearly £3 million. In the current climate, a figure closer to £500,000 would be far more realistic – and indeed quite generous.
We need to get to grips with the fact that although we do have individuals who are very wealthy, we also have poor people too. Poor may well be relative in comparison to people existing on next to nothing in other parts of the world and most people would certainly wish for those circumstances to be different. By all means, enable the Overseas Aid committee to organise fundraising for worthy causes – and Islanders will no doubt contribute as best they can. But do not presume to spend taxpayers money on the assumption that it is a given on the basis of the conscience of elected officials. Times are hard here in Guernsey too and we need to stop the spending spree that this States in particular – has signed up to.