THE Government has been urged to drop its manifesto commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on overseas aid from 2013.
The suggestion comes in a report published by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee yesterday. The committee praised the work of the Department for International Development (DfID); and it emphasised that it was not addressing the question of emergency relief. But it called on the Government not to enshrine the 0.7-per-cent target in law, and it requested the DfID to do more to tackle corruption.
The committee, made up of 13 cross-party peers, welcomed the DfID’s decisions to reduce funding to a few multilateral organisations, but urged further reductions in funding to the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the European Commission’s aid programme. It also called for an early exit-strategy from the Indian development-aid programme.
Its chairman, Lord MacGregor, said: “The committee wholeheartedly supports humanitarian aid. Our report does not propose any changes to that.
“We were unanimous in our view that legislation for a 0.7-per-cent target for overall aid spending is inappropriate, and that the Government should reconsider the target itself. We believe that development aid should be judged by the criteria of effectiveness and value for money, not by whether a specific arbitrary spending target is reached.”
He said that the committee’s conclusions broadly supported the new directions and focus of the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell. In response, Mr Mitchell welcomed the committee’s endorsement of the reforms that the Government had made to get value for money from British aid. “The British Government makes no apologies for sticking to its commitments to the world’s poorest people.
Spending less than one per cent of our national income on aid — an internationally agreed target — will create a safer and more prosperous world for the UK. And it will get 11 million children into school, vaccinate 55 million children against preventable diseases, and stop 250,000 newborn babies dying needlessly. Going back on this promise would cost lives.”
The senior governance adviser for Christian Aid, Eric Gutierrez, said that the committee’s proposal betrayed a promise made more than 40 years ago to the world’s poor.
“The committee’s view that reaching the figure would prioritise spending over results is wrong,” he said. “In Scandinavian countries, where the 0.7-per-cent threshold has been achieved, the discussion has shifted away from how much to give, to focus instead on how well it could be used.
“The committee also failed to understand that money spent in aid on development projects now can help minimise the amount spent on humanitarian aid in future.”
The chief executive of Bond, a network of 358 NGOs working in development, Ben Jackson, responded: “For little over a penny in every taxpayer’s pound, the UK has forged one of the most effective and efficient aid programmes in the world. Cutting UK aid would have little impact on the financial crisis back home, while having a massive impact in places like Somalia and Afghanistan.”
Joe Ware is a journalist at Christian Aid.