Boris Johnson today confirmed many in the aid sector’s worst fear: the Department for International Development will be scrapped, and merged with the FCO to create a new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister insisted “this will unite our aid with our diplomacy and bring together our international effort.” I fear that rather, the abolition of DFID is shocking evidence of the UK putting its own economic interests above saving lives.
For all the Government’s heralding of ‘Global Britain’, years of an anti-aid agenda taking root among those in power has meant that Britain is closing its doors to the wider world. The primary purpose of aid is and always has been to alleviate poverty, and meet the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. To make this announcement in the middle of a global pandemic – when it’s been estimated that COVID-19 could set back global poverty levels by 30 years – is beyond comprehension. Make no mistake, the end of an independent DFID will drive us even further backwards in our quest to make poverty history.
One of Johnson’s most concerning proclamations is that the Foreign Secretary will be empowered to decide which countries receive – or cease to receive – British aid. Framing examples of where more or less funding is going based on political vulnerabilities belies the statement that ending poverty will remain the cornerstone of our aid programming. It’s a thinly veiled, deeply worrying indication of the future of the assistance we give to communities living in entrenched poverty overseas.
DFID is world-renowned for its proven track record of transparent, accountable aid spending and delivering quality programmes that save lives. Giving oversight of aid to the Foreign Secretary risks money being diverted to address UK foreign policy interests, undermining the principle that aid should be used to meet the most immediate and pressing humanitarian needs. Not to pander to governments which could help strengthen Britain’s own power. And it’s important to note the FCO remains under close scrutiny by the International Development Committee over its transparency in aid spending.
Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to the 0.7% aid budget, but what will constitute aid under this new department? Many in the sector fear that the definition of aid will be diluted as Britain seeks to shore up its economic and overseas interests using cash earmarked for DFID. But aid must not become a weapon of foreign policy.
The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that global solidarity is more important than ever, and that only by working together can we create a safer and more prosperous world for everyone. We urge the Government to work with aid agencies to help ensure UK Aid continues to be a beacon of hope for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.
The people UK Aid serves are often suffering crises on top of crises – poverty, hunger, conflict, climate change and natural disasters. The world’s poorest are on the frontlines. To turn our backs on them now, for our own political gain, would be reprehensible, and a dereliction of our responsibility as a nation.
By Mark Sheard, CEO of World Vision UK