You might have seen the newspaper reports this week about how UK aid is being spent in support of the Chinese film industry and Chinese museums.
It’s the latest scandal surrounding how UK overseas development assistance is being spent on projects that don’t seem to support the world’s poorest, most vulnerable people at all.
And charities and MPs are clubbing together to demand change — to ensure that aid money is always used with the primary aim of reducing poverty.
“Nearly one-quarter of the world’s children — 535 million — are living in countries riven by conflict or disaster,” said Rhian Beynon, World Vision’s UK campaign manager. “UK aid is a beacon of hope for these children, and we must make sure that aid reaches them.”
Some of the UK’s leading charities have joined with MPs to demand that the Department for International Development (DfID) is always given final sign-off on overseas development aid spend.
These are just some of the reasons why #UKaid is in our national interest:— DFID (@DFID_UK) June 6, 2018
✔ Saves lives in humanitarian disasters
✔ Stops infectious diseases reaching our shores
✔ Makes the UK and the world a better, safer and more prosperous place pic.twitter.com/ECYGdwu56J
The problem, they say, comes when other governmental departments are given responsibility for spending aid money— departments that currently don’t have the same levels of transparency and the same commitment to poverty reduction as DfID.
It comes as a committee of cross-party MPs, the International Development Committee, released a report this week examining the definition of overseas development aid, and how it’s administered.
The report said that the spending of aid money by departments other than DfID “creates inherent risk in three areas: coherence, transparency, and focus upon poverty reduction.”
And “without effectiveness in these areas, the quality of the UK’s [overseas development aid] output will suffer,” it added.
The report recommended that DfID, as an “experienced” spender of development aid, “should play the leading role in equipping other government departments with the skills required to ensure consistently excellent levels of [overseas development aid] administration, from transparency in reporting, to poverty reduction-driven programming.”
It further said that the secretary of state for international development, currently Penny Mordaunt, should have “ultimate responsibility” for oversight of UK aid spending.
The committee raised concerns about the “increasingly prominent role” that cross-government funds have in spending UK aid, because of what it described as “their shortcomings in focus upon poverty reduction and transparency.”
It added that the “lack of clarity risks undermining faith in the UK brand.”
Never a better time to make this case - I can tell you from 21 years reporting on complex emergencies, conflict and most impoverished corners of our world- @UKaid & engagement gives Britain a moral voice that is listened to like nothing else does https://t.co/YJCwECF5c1— Rageh Omaar (@ragehomaar) June 6, 2018
The report particularly highlighted the Prosperity Fund and the Conflict, Security, and Stability Fund (CSSF) as needing examination.
It’s the Prosperity Fund, which paid out £46 million in 2017 and is administered by the Foreign Office, that supported the project to develop the Chinese film industry and museum infrastructure, for example.
“It is unclear to us how these types of interventions will benefit the world’s poorest people; both those living in the countryside and the urban poor,” said the committee in the report.
Committee chairperson, Labour MP Stephen Twigg, said “serious questions” needed to be asked about the Prosperity Fund.
“There’s a serious risk that we could go backwards,” he said. “We’re not saying it’s wrong [that] that money is spent in other departments, but that DfID need to oversee all of it.”
The CSSF meanwhile, also a cross-government fund, spent £603 million on overseas aid in 2016-7.
Last year, DfID accounted for 72% of ODA spent, compared to 88% five years ago, according to the Guardian.
Instead, MPs are urging the government to reassess aid spending, and give DfID the responsibility of ensuring that other departments live up to DfID’s “world-leading” quality.
And charities are also backing the MPs’ call.
“The International Development Committee is right,” said Kirsty McNeill, executive director of policy, advocacy & campaigns for Save the Children.
“DfID is a world-leader in delivering high-quality aid that helps to transform the lives of the poorest people on earth,” she added. “But as spending by other departments has increased, the proportion spent in the poorest countries, where it’s needed most, and on vital services such as healthcare, has declined. DfID should be able to help other departments meet the high standards it sets.”
"I am very proud that the UK is playing a leading role in ending trachoma" @JoannaLumley talks to @Telegraph about her recent trip to Bangladesh to see the lifesaving work #UKaid and @Sightsavers are doing to end trachoma. https://t.co/gp66EKwHLypic.twitter.com/aYamwcq7E0— DFID (@DFID_UK) June 7, 2018
Romilly Greenhill, UK director of the One campaign, said: “The IDC is right to call out aid that doesn’t meet its core purpose of fighting poverty. Their recommendation that DfID — with its world-leading expertise in using aid effectively — be given final sign-off of UK aid spent anywhere in Whitehall is spot on.”
Global Citizen is standing with ONE, Save the Children, World Vision, and other organisations in support of the UK aid budget and ensuring that it is always spent in support of the world's most vulnerable people. You can join us by taking action in support of UK aid here.