The UK’s international development secretary Penny Mordaunt has spoken out about what the future of UK aid spending could look like. 

Mordaunt, who was appointed to the role in November, described Britain as a “development superpower” in an article written for the Daily Telegraph, and said she wants everyone to “feel pride” in British aid spending. 

“The work we do — the breadth, depth, and quality of it, the soft power we wield and the contribution we make to the health, wealth, and prosperity of the UK and the world — should be a source of uncontroversial national pride,” she wrote. 

Embed from Getty Images

But she said some still have “nagging doubts” that she will aim to address over the coming weeks. 

“Over the next few weeks I will set out my answer to the why and the what: why Britain’s security and prosperity depends upon international development and what we will do to tackle the major global challenges we face,” she wrote. “Issues like disease, mass migration, and conflict pay no heed to national borders.” 

Take action: Tweet Now to Remind the Daily Mail That UK Aid Saves a Life Every 2 Minutes and Should Be Protected

“It is not in our interest to sit back and wait until these problems come to our shores,” she continued. “Aid helps create self-sufficient economies and our trading partners of the future.”

“Our aid spend is a reflection of us as a big-hearted, open-minded, and far-sighted nation,” Mordaunt added. “That’s not going to change. But under my leadership, it will also continue to be firmly in the national interest and hard-headed too.”

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

Mordaunt outlined in the article her plans for how to spent the £13 billion overseas aid budget to “tackle the issues that matter most to the British people.” 

These changes could include an increased focus on cutting down on plastic pollution, and the illegal wildlife trade.

Mordaunt also said she intends for the UK to stop paying for aid projects that developing countries could fund themselves, by “putting their hands in their pockets.” 

But some of the policies outlined have provoked concern among aid organisations that the UK could be gearing up to withdraw support from countries that still have a “significant need” for aid. 

Read more: 10 Amazing Things That UK Aid Has Done This Year

Alex Thier, executive director of the Overseas Development Institute, said he agreed with the principle of focussing “more of our assistance on promoting sustainability and assistance so that countries can lift themselves up.”

“However,” he added, “it’s important to apply that to the people and countries where it is needed most. The goal should not be to pull away from countries that are struggling and only invest in countries that are doing well.” 

“It’s absolutely right that countries need to invest in their own people and they are doing that in many cases, in health and education,” Romilly Greenhill, of the One Campaign, told the Guardian. “The evidence suggests that even if they collect taxes and invest in the health and social sector, there is still a significant funding gap across all low income countries.”

Read more: The UK Will Help 750,000 Women and Girls In Latest Push to End Gender Violence

NGOs are also seeking reassurance that shifting focus towards issues like plastic pollution will still keep the focus of UK aid on its ultimate aim of ending extreme poverty.

Labour has also warned that the strategy could risk weakening public support for aid spending, if the public no longer believe UK aid is helping “to make the world fairer.” 

“When the British public gets behind aid, they do so because it’s the right thing to do — not because it’s expedient,” said Kate Osamor, Labour’s shadow international development secretary. 

Osamor added that extreme inequalities between rich and poor exist in every country in the world — so just because a country is officially a middle-income country, for example, doesn’t mean that there aren’t people there who are living in extreme poverty. 

“Rather than abandon the world’s poorest in these countries,” she added, “the UK should do much more to tackle acute and growing inequality head-on.” 

Read more: Yes, UK Aid Money Goes to Some of the World's Most Corrupt Countries — and Here's Why That's Important

Here are the five pledges that Mordaunt outlined for the future of UK aid spending: 

1. ‘A Bold New Brexit-Ready Proposition.’ 

Mordaunt aims “to boost trade and investment with developing countries and promote sustainable economic development and job creation.” 

She said that this would offer a “win-win for Britain and the world’s poorest,” by offering a “joined-up response to the challenges and opportunities we face as a country.” 

2. ‘I Will Not Invest When Others Should Be Putting Their Hands in Their Pockets.’

“It will no longer be enough for a project simply to be achieving good things,” wrote Mordaunt. “We must be able to demonstrate why it is absolutely needs to be Britain that pays for them — rather than other donors, the private sector or, where it can, the government of the country itself.” 

She wrote that the governments of developing countries need “to take responsibility for investing in healthcare or education… If it chooses not to, that will inform our decisions.” 

She reinforced the aim of UK aid to be “on helping developing countries stand on their own feet,” as it always has been, and to “build sustainable health and education systems that they invest in themselves.” 

3. ‘I Will Cut Funding to Organisations That Do Not Deliver on Targets We Set.’

The global vaccination organisation, Gavi, was highlighted as being one of the “fantastic” partners that works with the UK government, delivering the “gold standard in results and value for money” — and saving millions of lives every year. 

But, warned Mordaunt, “some others do not and they are on notice.”  

4. ‘I Will Ensure That Our Aid Spend Directly Contributes to Tackling the Issues That Matter Most to the British People.’

This is already happening, through the Department for International Development’s (DfID) research on global health — which is both helping to protect the UK from the risk of global pandemics, wrote Mordaunt, and developing new diagnostics tests that are being used by the NHS. 

But she has pledged for this aim to go further, through working with the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to tackle plastic pollution and the illegal wildlife trade. 

There are also plans in place for DfID to work with the Ministry of Defence, looking at how to further strengthen civilian-military cooperation to reduce costs and get “the most from our development and defence assets.” 

And with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), looking at how the UK’s global volunteering scheme, the International Citizen Service, can “help young Brits get the skills they need to find jobs here in the UK.” 

5. ‘I Will Find New Ways to Help Other Departments Make Their Spend More Effective.’

DfID has extremely high levels of transparency when spending aid money, which aren’t currently matched by the other government departments that are also involved in spending UK aid. 

An increasing number of government departments are now making investments in overseas development — which count towards the UK’s aid spending target of 0.7% of national income — and steps will now be taken to bring these departments in line with the responsibility and transparency of DfID. 

It means that UK aid money can be even more focussed on reaching the people who need it most, in order to impact more lives. 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN Global Goals, and end extreme poverty by 2030. But that can’t 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. 


Demand Equity

These Are the 5 Steps Shaping the Future of UK Aid

By Imogen Calderwood