Why Corruption Matters

Why Corruption Matters TOPICS


Corruption is perhaps best described as a malign force which perpetuates poverty, sows insecurity and robs the world’s most vulnerable people of desperately needed public services. It can manifest in many forms, from criminal acts like bribery, extortion and embezzlement to highly questionable, but sometimes legal practices like nepotism, patronage and cronyism. Most corruption takes place in the shadows, away from the prying eyes of public scrutiny, and this sometimes makes its precise impact difficult to quantify. But pick any country in the world, a representative democracy, a one-party state or a military dictatorship, and you’ll find a common thread: they’re all grappling with problems that stem from corruption.


Our definition of corruption

Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. In practice, that could mean anything from:

  • A dictator bleeding their nation dry to fund a life of luxury for themselves and their family while ordinary citizens struggle without basic public services.
  • A doctor demanding a bribe from a patient before prescribing desperately needed medication.
  • An MP representing the interests of a company owned by a donor to their political party over the interests of their constituents.


Impact of corruption

In the worst cases, corruption costs lives. An estimated $500billion of funding destined for health services is lost to corruption every year. We know that corruption in the health sector kills an estimated 140,000 children a year, fuels the global rise in antimicrobial resistance, hinders the fight against HIV/AIDS and has hampered the ability to respond to COVID-19.

Corruption has been a driving force behind some of the deadliest conflicts in recent history by helping create the conditions in which these conflicts can thrive. It perpetuates poverty, inequality and injustice, wastes funds that could be spent on development and security, and facilitates the operations of extremist groups and organised crime syndicates. Even after the shooting has stopped, the legacy of corruption can scupper peace settlements, as elite networks born in conflict jostle for political and economic control.


The UK’s role in corruption

Here in the UK, people often assume that corruption is not a problem. But because Britain – particularly London - is an important financial and diplomatic hub, the impact of UK corruption spreads far beyond our borders. When UK companies bribe officials overseas, it fuels corruption and inequality in countries where most of the population lives in poverty. When corrupt politicians and businesspeople steal public funds and launder them through British banks and property, it means fewer schools, hospitals and roads for millions around the world.

In addition to the UK’s corruption footprint overseas, conflicts of interest, bribery and political ‘pay for access’ scandals have reinforced a perception amongst the British public that politicians and big business are only looking out for themselves and cannot be trusted. This distrust undermines our institutions, companies, local government and our politics.


Why corruption matters

Corruption impacts every aspect of society. Its effects are not always immediately obvious, but left untreated it will inevitably spread to corrode trust in systems and institutions. Transparency International UK holds the powerful and corrupt to account, by exposing the systems and networks that enable corruption.