andy Frain 120

Andy Frain

Former Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

The Government’s approach to International Aid risks enduring damage

23 March 2021

The publication of the Integrated Review was the Government’s long-awaited opportunity to showcase the UK as a positive force for global good in the years to come, aligning the UK’s values with a strategy for the world.

Expectations were raised of an ambitious approach when the Prime Minister said the Review will “enable us to look forward with confidence as we shape the world of the future” and the Government’s press release for the review described the UK as “uniquely international in its outlook and interests.”

However, the confirmation in November 2020 that the UK’s much-credited and legally binding commitment to dedicate 0.7% of GDP to international assistance was to be reduced to 0.5% owing to the exceptional strain on the Treasury caused by Covid-19 had already called into question the UK’s boast of “unique internationalism”. The budget would have fallen dramatically in cash terms anyway, in line with the fall in GDP, and the further cut makes an already diminished level of funding even smaller.

The Government has said that this would only be a temporary measure as public finances recover but those working in international assistance  had hoped to have a firm timeline set out in the Integrated Review. A lack of detail on reinstating this funding has heightened concerns that the Government’s commitment to restoring the budget to its historic level is not as firm as their previous announcements might suggest.

A timeline back to 0.7%

A clear timeline for the return of the 0.7% is vital for the charity and voluntary organisations working in international development, and leading sector voices have made their concerns clear.

With cross-party resistance to the Government’s plans, including from its own backbenches, a timeline of some description could be implemented by a suitable amendment to any legislation.  As a result, amidst speculation that the Government would want to avoid a timeline being imposed on them, charity leaders have considered launching a legal challenge in order to compel them to take the legislation through Parliament .

The calls from organisations who are regularly in receipt of UK Government funding are perhaps to be expected, but even charities operating separately from Government are desperate for clarity too. It is these charities that have stepped in to provide life-saving services put at risk owing to UK aid budget cuts.  Whilst this may be possible in the short term, many charities can only commit to services temporarily and the need for detail as to how temporary these changes are is urgent.

Charities are already feeling the financial strain. International aid organisations in the sector have seen a sharp increase in demand for their services, with the pandemic causing the first rise in global poverty in 23 years.

CAF is part of a coalition of charities supporting the Small but Mighty campaign, working to secure the survival of small, UK-based international development charities in the face of this increased pressure, with research showing that almost half of all small international development charities won’t survive without Government support.

It is important to note that the Review did contain some positives – the Government’s strong support of the COVAX vaccine alliance  is a step towards an international recovery from the pandemic and a firm riposte to concerns over vaccine nationalism.