No confidence in government to improve foreign aid, say charity leaders

06 Oct 2022 News

Two charity sector leaders told the Conservative party conference they were not confident that the new government could improve the country’s approach to foreign aid. 

Panellists were asked whether they were “broadly confident” that the new government could deliver an effective foreign aid programme. 

Neil Heslop, chief executive of Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), said he was “not confident at all.”

“I think the challenge for this government now and for all policymakers, if you think in terms of the sustainable development goals, is how as a society and as a government, are we going to turn these values into being governable?”

Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, agreed with Heslop. She said due to the cuts to the aid budget and the merging of the foreign office with the department for international development, “it doesn’t suggest that we’re going in the right direction.”

“This isn't a new government, it's had 12 years, in which time we have seen a decline in attention to this area and an undermining of the UK reputation. So, we have no longer have an independent partner, we cut the aid budget, we are anticipating more cuts, and we have sort of seen a decline in expertise. So that trajectory doesn't suggest that we're going in the right direction.”

However, Draper was keen to stress that this damage to the UK’s foreign aid programme is reversible. 

“If the UK wants to show up in the world and actually be part of the solution as well, that's a political choice.”

Ex-minister criticises government’s handling of foreign aid

Andrew Mitchell, who was secretary of state for international development from 2010 -2012, criticised the merging of the DFID with the foreign office as a “big mistake” as it leads to a lack of expertise when tackling issues of foreign aid. 

“The lack of expertise can lead to very great difficulty,” he said. 

He also criticised the cut to the aid budget from 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income (GNI) to 0.5%. 

“Remember, we've also seen a reduction in gross national income. So, 0.5% is a much lesser amount of money.”

He told the audience he knew of many MPs who were persuaded to vote for this measure in 2021 as they were convinced it would be temporary. However, a year on, it is yet to change.

When asked if he was confident in the new government to deliver, Mitchell said: “My view is that it's my job to try and push to make sure it is. And that's what I will be doing. We'll see whether we're successful.”

Mitchell said the fact that prime minister Liz Truss spent a year as the secretary of state for the foreign office gave him optimism about the government’s handling of foreign aid. 

The event was hosted by Bright Blue and Charities Aid Foundation. 

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