Covid-19 and its secondary impacts are causing suffering and disruption around the world, especially in developing countries. Poor, marginalised groups generally consider the pandemic a crisis on top of other, existing crises while donors, multilateral organisations and NGOs are warning that covid-19 and the response to it could undo the progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The dilemma of trying to stem the spread of infections while avoiding worse harm in other areas is at the heart of the global policy-making challenge. The Government has made countering the spread and impact of covid-19 one of its top priorities in its foreign and development policy. It has taken several measures in response—these include investing more than £700 million to date in responding to the primary and secondary impacts of the virus, creating the post of a Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs, and adapting pre-covid-19 contracts with aid partners in an attempt to make them more flexible and more responsive to the immediate needs of local communities.
Although these measures are commendable, we ask the Government to strengthen its longer-term response to covid-19. Significant challenges remain not only in terms of vaccine distribution, but also in responding to the longer-term social and economic impacts of the pandemic. The consequences of these impacts will last long after the headlines made by the virus have disappeared.
The Government made significant changes to its foreign and development policy in 2020. In June 2020, the Prime Minister announced the merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. In July 2020, the Foreign Secretary announced that levels of UK aid spending in 2020 would be cut by £2.9 billion owing to a decline in Gross National Income (GNI). And in November 2020, the Foreign Secretary announced that, from 2021 until the fiscal circumstances allow, the Government would reduce the proportion of GNI spent on Official Development Assistance (ODA) each year from 0.7% to 0.5%. We urge the Government to ensure that its diminished ODA budget is spent all the more effectively and in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals as these reductions will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
This report focuses on four areas in considering the effectiveness of the UK’s contribution: non-covid healthcare; economic performance and livelihoods; food security; and the well-being of women and girls.
We call on the Government to
We further welcome the Government’s decision that this Committee will remain in place. We will hold the Government to account for its performance in terms of international development and will scrutinise UK aid expenditure, including the portion implemented by Departments other than the FCDO.