Olivia Roberts: UK public prefers WHO to Dr Who

You would think that Matt Smith and David Tennant, of popular television programme Dr Who, would have a few more fans in the UK than Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). But apparently not according to the results from the UK Public Opinion Monitor set up by the Institute of Development Studies to explore attitudes towards development in the UK.

The survey was reported in the Guardian as British public want to cut aid. Or rather, the “headline results” were reported. I can see why headline results are appealing to those people writing the headlines. But personally I’m happier clicking on the link marked ‘longer report’ and having a good look around. This isn’t because I’m a data geek (although I am a data geek) but because there seem to me to be some questions about what the survey was asking people. It is reasonable to ask people how they feel about the taxes they pay, the schools their children attend, or the NHS services they use because they experience these as part of their daily lives or at the very least have close proximity to someone who does. But drawing on your own experiences of tax-funded public sector services in the UK is very different to critiquing international development spending.

And, looking at the further breakdown of answers, this is what the interviewees felt too, with the majority responding that they “know very little about the aid given by the UK to developing countries” or “have little idea what types of aid are best at reducing poverty.” Furthermore they don’t see it as their number one (or indeed numbers 2-12) priority: aid to developing countries was ranked the least (13th) important factor in influencing which political party most supported.

What also failed to make it into the article was that while 30.6% of those surveyed indicated that spending on aid to developing countries should be reduced “a lot,” 7.9% of respondents considered spending on aid to developing countries should be increased. And 27% were happy with no change. Which would make the headline “general public have a range of opinions on complex issue.” Not so catchy.

Not in the report, but reported in the news article, is how these findings may link to the government’s proposal (originating from the blue bits of the coalition) for MyAid, a 40 million scheme loosely based on principles of the television programme Strictly Come Dancing and involving a public vote on the “most deserving” of 10 ballroom …  I mean development, projects.

Which brings us nicely back to another BBC stalwart, Dr Who.  When asked about cutting expenditure on particular government services to tackle the budget deficit, broadcasting and public services were nominated for cuts above development assistance, which includes the UK’s contributions to the WHO.

Time to start recycling the Cybermen?

Olivia Roberts is a senior researcher, BMA international department. The views she expresses in her blog posts are entirely her own.

Which brings us nicely back to another BBC stalwart, Dr Who.