International development strategy is a missed opportunity, charities argue

17 May 2022 News

One charity has called the government’s international development strategy a missed opportunity and another said it “offers scant hope” for people in need. 

Yesterday, the foreign secretary Liz Truss announced a plan setting out how the UK will assist international countries in conflict or crisis.  

The strategy, which will be implemented by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), listed four key priorities. 

These are the delivery of honest and reliable investment, to support women and girls, step up humanitarian work and place tackling climate change at the core of the UK’s aid response.  

While most charities have welcomed the government’s focus on supporting women and girls, some have criticised it as lacking mentions of global poverty. 

Many have also called on the government to increase the aid budget back to 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income (GNI). 

The overseas aid budget was reduced to 0.5% in November 2020, meaning that the UK no longer meets the United Nations recommended target of 0.7% spent on official development assistance (ODA). 

Cuts to multilateral spending

The strategy plans to spend more on country and bilateral programmes as opposed to multilateral organisations, which are formed by three or more nations. 

By 2025, FCDO plans to have spent 75% of its aid budget on country and bilateral programmes. 

Aid charity Bond has questioned how the government would be able to honour this commitment as well as its £1.4bn contribution to the World Bank programme. 

Bond: ‘UK’s loss of leadership in global development’ 

Stephanie Draper, CEO of Bond, welcomed some of the strategy’s elements including its priority to support women and girls. However, she argued that it was largely driven by short-term political and economic interests and failed to tackle the root causes of inequality. 

She said: “The strategy’s shortcomings signal the UK’s loss of leadership in global development. By using the diminishing UK aid budget to bolster trade interests, cutting back our global commitments and leaving poverty alleviation as an afterthought, the UK has missed a golden opportunity to properly rethink its role on the world stage – and risks abandoning those most in need.”  

Christian Aid: ‘Ministers must restore the international aid budget’ 

Karimi Kinoti, Christian Aid’s interim director of policy, public affairs & campaigns, said: "For the increasing number of people facing conflict, hunger, the impact of the climate crisis, and the aftermath of the pandemic, this so-called international development strategy offers scant hope.

“We welcome the UK’s commitment to ending violence against women and girls. However, plans for aid spending to be driven by UK commercial interest is an open admission that this is not a strategy for tackling global poverty.

“If the UK is to get serious, Ministers must restore the international aid budget, deliver debt cancellation and a strategy that empowers local people, including compensating communities on the frontline of the climate crisis.”

Oxfam: ‘Putting geo-politics above poverty’ 

Sam Nadel, Oxfam’s head of government relations said: “This strategy is the latest body blow to the UK’s position as a global leader in tackling poverty.  

“While there are some welcome words on the importance of addressing the climate emergency and supporting women and girls, when push comes to shove, this strategy prioritises aid for trade and the financialisation of development. It is clearly motivated more by tackling China than tackling poverty.

“A key test of this strategy will be whether it equips the UK to address urgent crises in places like East Africa where 28 million people are facing severe hunger. By gutting its aid budget – and now putting geopolitics above poverty – the UK has fallen short of the challenge.”

Charities Aid Foundation: Increasing aid budget is essential

Neil Heslop, chief executive of Charities Aid Foundation, said:  “Spending on international development is truly life-saving, and should therefore be seen as a necessity, particularly in the context of the devastating war in Ukraine and the impact on global food supply. We urge the government to increase the budget level as soon as possible, which is essential if we are to meet the vision of global Britain and build on our historic legacy.”

ActionAid: ‘Step backwards’

Frances Longley, chief executive of ActionAid UK, said: “While we welcome the focus on women and girls within the new international development strategy the blurred lines between delivering aid and advocating for UK trade are a step backwards for the millions of marginalised women and girls around the world. Prioritising ‘honest and reliable investment’ does not acknowledge the ways in which women and girls are so often negatively affected by foreign businesses and trade rules. We are also extremely concerned that the IDS contains very little reference to development and reducing poverty.” 
Longley said that if FCDO were to meet its priorities, it would require the aid budget returning to 0.7% of the UK’s GNI. ActionAid said it looks forward to hearing more details on how the goal to support women and girls will be met. 

Action Against Hunger: ‘This is not what ODA is for’ 

Kate Munro, head of advocacy at Action Against Hunger, said: “There is plenty to welcome in the new international development strategy – prioritising humanitarian crises, strengthening health systems and putting women and girls first. 

“But these commitments must all be backed up the proportionate budget allocations. Just as countries face a worsening food and nutrition crisis, particularly across the Sahel and Horn of Africa, they have been hit by drastic aid cuts. The number of people living in famine conditions worldwide has gone up four-fold in the last year. As budgets are formulated, countries must be prioritised by the level of humanitarian need rather than by UK trade interests – this is not what the ODA is for.” 

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.


More on