We are deeply concerned about the seemingly unilateral decision by Boris Johnson to merge the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) without consultation with experts, civil society or even his own government. Yet again the poorest and most marginalised risk being left behind and the UK’s role in the world will be weakened.
The timing is very surprising. DFID are central to the UK’s response to the global suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with health care systems around the world struggling to cope. The UK Working Group on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), an informal coalition of 23 civil society organisations, joins with non-governmental organisations and others across the UK and the world in condemning this decision.
The UK is one of the major funders of global health, and this announcement sharply brings into focus the expertise and unique strengths of DFID that must not be lost through the planned merger. Firstly, the hard-won expertise and capacity within DFID will inevitably be diluted should it be mainstreamed across the FCO. The policy coherence of the DFID portfolio must be upheld. Global development must have its own minister in order not to weaken focus or lose programming knowledge and global experience.
Secondly, we cannot lose the transparent, value-for-money processes and impact that DFID is known for. The National Audit Office review of official development assistance clearly demonstrated DFID’s strengths in this regard. Finally, the International Development Committee must continue to ensure cross party parliamentary oversight on overseas development assistance spending.
The UK Working Group on NCDs looks forward to engaging in good faith with the FCO on what could be changed for the better through the forthcoming restructure. For instance, despite the massive and urgent need for development assistance to promote healthy behaviours, prevent NCDs, and ensure that people with NCDs get the treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care that they need, these have long been neglected. COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of our populations living with NCDs, particularly older people, and the inadequacies of health systems to protect, treat and care for people. Yet the development response from DFID has been slow on this issue.
While the FCO has recognised the importance of responding to NCDs and included it within its Prosperity Fund, this has to date only been focussed on middle-income countries. Opportunities for greater coordination across departments could be beneficial but lower income countries must not be forgotten, and indeed they must be prioritised.
As the UK Working Group on NCDs we urgently call on the UK government to reverse the decision, pending a more thorough review and consultation process – including civil society, so that the poorest and most marginalised, including all those with NCDs, are not left behind.
By Claire Morris, Global Advocacy Director at the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, writes on behalf of the UK Working Group on Non-Communicable Diseases
The UK Working Group on NCDs is a network of over 20 UK-based national and international NGOs and research organisations, which work together to draw attention to the urgent need to address the burden of non-communicable diseases as an international development priority.