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Understanding public attitudes to aid and development

Research report

Written by Leni Wild

Research report

Drawing on results of deliberative workshops around the United Kingdom, this report explores public attitudes towards aid and development.

Broad support for UK development efforts cannot be taken for granted. The financial crisis and ensuing spending cuts have had a clear impact on public opinion, with recent polls showing that slim majorities now favour a reduction in UK aid spending. There is evidence of growing scepticism about the effectiveness of UK aid programmes (and, indeed, of aid in general), with calls to refocus the development debate on the quality of results rather than the quantity of money spent.

This report is based on four deliberative workshops in locations around the UK, where members of the public were invited to take part in a three-hour discussion on a range of aid and development topics. Each of the discussions was analysed for both the content of what was said and the language individuals chose to use. This gave a richer  understanding of why people hold the views they do than is normally available from opinion polls or focus groups.

Analysis indicates that:

  • those who represent the middle ground of UK public opinion generally have a ‘two-dimensional’ understanding of aid and development;
  • the public may be becoming less supportive of maintaining, let alone increasing, current levels of UK spending on aid;
  • there is considerable appetite for greater understanding of development and for more complex stories of how change and progress happens;
  • development is generally viewed as a positive; and,
  • there are diverse views about who should be responsible for development than is often assumed.
Alex Glennie, Will Straw and Leni Wild