Twice in recent weeks, question time audiences have asked why the government is ring fencing aid budgets whilst cutting the NHS. This at once shows the monumental effectiveness of development organisations, and their biggest failure.

It shows success because, despite a significant public sentiment that the government ought to cut this funding, almost every party represented at Westminster supports maintaining it. There are, it seems, three reasons for this – the belief that there is a significant block for whom this is a priority issue; the desire among triangulating Tories to be seen as ‘nice guys’; and a political community in which it is socially unacceptable to cut aid to some of the poorest people on earth.

Success in building these three phenomena is impressive. But it comes at a huge cost.

Because by winning over an elite despite the views of their people, the people have been alienated from those in Southern countries. The closing of political ranks makes support for aid a preserve of the international elite to which MPs are seen to belong, rather than a concession secured by the people.

And, more to the point, it has missed a major opportunity. Over the last 5 years, many of the major development NGOs have stopped talking about the real causes of global poverty – trade, debt, and corporate control; IMF imposed austerity and the global financial system.

And this failure is a massive irony. For a decade, these organisations campaigned against an IMF and its austerity policies which were entirely alien to their members. Over the last year, we have started ourselves to face these policies in this country, and across much of the Western world. The chance to reform a global financial system which has consistently acted for the global elite who control it rather than the majority of the people of the world used to be a distant prospect. But with people across the West starting to feel the brunt of the policies of the agents of their governments, a genuine global movement for real change seems more viable than ever. But only if people see that the cuts to the NHS are a consequence of the same failed economic policies as are starvation and illiteracy – that the austerity imposed on southern countries for three decades is the same as the austerity imposed on us today. And only if we see that those doing the imposing are the same people; and if the people suffering manage to work together for serious change.

But by securing short term aid to patch up the poverty created by this austerity, these NGOs have divided those they needed to unite. And so the prospects of winning real reforms have been pushed even further into the distance. And ultimately that will make things worse for everyone.

Adam Ramsay

About Adam Ramsay

Adam is Co-Editor of Open Democracy UK and a green activist based in Edinburgh. He co-founded Bright Green in 2010.