The attitudes of British people towards aid for developing countries are too often moulded almost entirely by "irrational feelings, misconceptions and prejudice", according to Mrs Judith Hart, Minister for Overseas Development.
In a foreword to a new survey on the subject, published last week, she said that the results revealed a lack of knowledge that was a matter of concern for everyone in Britain given the problems of the Third World and the ramifications that these had for people here.
The survey, carried out by the Central Office of Information for Mrs Hart's Ministry, showed that "national introversion" caused by Britain's own economic problems had blunted concern for the difficulties experienced elsewhere.
It also found a clear
relationship between "favourability towards British aid and views on immigration and immigrant rights."
On immigration it said: "A high level of misgivings about the effects of immigration on this country was accompanied by significant opposition to equal rights for immigrants and general agreement that their presence exacerbates the unemployment situation." When considering what development was all about, the public's understanding appeared to be in terms of the movement of "poorer" or "less civilised" countries towards a Western type of industrial economy, the survey said. Any broader understanding was limited to a few enthusiastic individuals.
In general, people favoured a move away from the present emphasis on loans and grants towards educating the recipients to help themselves. "This is considered a better long-term solution to their problems and also allays the common suspicion that financial aid will be misdirected or misued," it said.
The interviewers found that people became more in favour of a higher aid budget whey they learned more about the actual levels of aid expenditure.