andy Frain 120

Andy Frain

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. 

Successful aid investment

The Government has also reaffirmed commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and set a commitment to meeting 17 SDGs by 2030.

This ambition is to be applauded, although once more the Government’s positive noises  risk being undermined by  the decision to exclude extreme poverty as a strategic objective for aid, with a focus instead on aligning aid provision with the UK’s foreign policy goals. 

The UK is home to a number of world leading international development charities and, at a time when the Government is keen to push the idea of a “global Britain”, the sector is an area where the UK is a genuine world leader with long-term relationships around the world cemented over decades of working cooperatively in countries at varying stages in their own development

You don’t need to look far for evidence of aid as a successful investment. In March last year, the UK’s International Aid budget donated over £200m to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a group initially intended for the developing world but one that has now played a major role in research and development on a number of vaccines, including for Covid-19.

UK international aid played an essential role in the creation of the ACT-Accelerator partnership, a mix of international charities and businesses who have lead the fight against Covid-19 internationally, and have helped with the distribution and production of vaccines in the UK and around the world.
  
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On both a humanitarian and an economic basis, the Government’s thinking is to some extent understandable – the UK is facing historic economic and social challenges of its own as a result of the pandemic. These challenges are however, mirrored around the world and look set to be exacerbated by the economic crisis facing international development charities, so the UK cannot afford to look solely inward at this time.

The real impact of cutting aid

The UK’s decision to cut international aid spending, even temporarily, has a clear narrative effect which may ripple outward and influence other countries to take similar steps. But there is also a much more direct and immediate economic impact on the many charities working in international aid and development, and the millions of people whose lives they help every year.

It is vital, therefore, that the government moves quickly to assure the sector that international development remains a priority in British foreign policy and to clarify longer term plans to return to our 0.7% commitment.

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