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Charities Are Telling the UK Government to Focus Aid ‘on the People Most in Need’

The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) has published a breakdown of how the overseas development budget was spent last year — and charities and NGOs say there are questions that really need to be asked. 

The proportion of the £13.4 billion aid budget that was spent by government departments other than DfID rose by almost 50% in 2016. 

The aid budget, which is 0.7% of Britain’s gross national income, is put towards a vast range of development programmes — including vaccinating children against deadly diseases, ending gender violence, and increasing access to education and life-saving healthcare.

The figures released on Friday have sparked concern among campaigners, however, about the transparency of spending, and how we can make sure money is reaching the people around the world who need it most. 

Take action: Tell Your MP Why You’re Proud of UK Aid — and Call on Them to Make it as Effective as Possible

Aid organisations are calling for the government to either stop channeling aid money through non-DfID departments, or to take steps to bring other government departments in-line with the high transparency levels of DfID. 

Gideon Rabinowitz, policy manager at Oxfam, said serious questions need be asked about “the extent to which these departments are focussed on the people most in need.” 

“The fact they are spending more on low- and upper-middle income countries than in least developed countries raises serious questions,” he said.

He added that the “trend of increasing aid through other government departments seems to be out of step with transparency and the focus on the poorest countries.” 

“We want to see these other departments upping their game in order to justify their aid spending, and to match the transparency and poverty focus of DfID in order to justify that spend,” he said.

Read more: UK Aid Makes Britain, and the World, a Safer Place

Just over a quarter of the UK’s aid budget was spent by non-DfID departments — predominantly by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy; the conflict, stability, and security fund; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and the Home Office. 

The UK is one of the few countries that met the UN target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on overseas development in 2016. 

But only 73.8% of this money went through DfID, which means the amount of aid spent outside DfID has risen by almost 200% since 2012. 

That could be a problem because, while DfID has high levels of transparency concerning where money is spent, that isn’t a guarantee for other government departments. 

Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at Cafod, the Catholic international development charity, said: “DfID has very high levels of transparency and accountability that we think should be the norm for all government aid spending, to make sure it’s effective, well-targeted and its top priority remains reaching the world’s poorest people.”

Read more: ‘When the British Public See Suffering, They Act,’ Says UK’s New Development Secretary

Of the bilateral aid money (aid given from one country to another) that was spent by non-DfID departments, only a quarter went to the world’s least developed countries. Around 74% of it instead went to low- and upper-middle income countries. 

Charities and NGOs have raised this as a concern as it gives some critics a foothold in the argument around whether or not the 0.7% target should be cut. 

Save the Children released a report in October examining how we can make sure UK aid is spent as effectively as possible, that addressed this very issue. 

“Press critiques of UK aid often focus on programmes — such as ‘cultural projects’ carried out by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport or questionable ‘prosperity’ initiatives in middle income countries — which are rightly criticised for not expressly supporting these development objectives [to reduce poverty],” said the report. 

“When there is still a massive funding gap for urgent priorities like addressing the needs of child refugees,” it continued, “it can’t be right that this precious resource is spent without due regard to these basic principles.” 

Read more: Why Funding Coconut Farms in the South Pacific with UK Aid Is Actually Critically Important

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) also released a report earlier this year that highlighted the trend of funnelling more money through non-DfID government departments, and wanted that the trend threatened to negatively-impact on reducing poverty in developing countries.

Sonya Krutikova, from the IFS, told the Guardian: “There are two issues… DfID has a commitment enshrined in UK law to reducing poverty. It is not very clear that the other departments have that same commitment.”

Krutikova raised concerns about “whether the national interest and poverty reduction are compatible or complementary goals.” 

Read more: These Before and After Photos Show Just How Vital Foreign Aid Is in the Fight Against Hunger

Save the Children made a number of recommendations in its October report, entitled “Next Generation Aid”, for steps to take to protect the transparency and effectiveness of UK aid spending. These include:

Read more: The UK Is Investing £45 Million to End Malaria in Uganda

1. Make all UK aid across all departments compliant with the International Development Act, which means that all aid should “contribute to a reduction in poverty.”

2. Develop joint country plans across departments, so that every department is following a coherent strategy.

3. Ensure aid transparency across all departments, so that they all are as transparent as DfID and ensure UK aid is well spent.

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the Global Goals and end extreme poverty by 2030. But that cannot be achieved without the vital contribution of UK overseas development funding. You can help us by taking action here, to tell your MP how proud you are of the hard work that UK aid does around the world, and call on them to protect it.