4.In July 2020, the Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, wrote to us to say that, while the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget would remain at 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for 2020, the monetary amount that this represented would be reduced by £2.9 billion in line with the reduction in the size of the UK economy. In November 2020, the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the proportion of UK GNI spent as ODA would be reduced from 0.7% to 0.5% from 2021 until “the fiscal situation allows” a return to 0.7%. The Chancellor said that this would constitute £10 billion being spent on ODA in 2021. He defended this as a substantial amount, highlighting that the UK was estimated to remain “the second highest aid donor in the G7—higher than France, Italy, Japan, Canada and the United States”. But this figure represents a reduction of the UK’s spending by around £5 billion compared with 2019.
5.In December 2020, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) published its findings on the Government’s management of UK aid spending from January to September 2020, with a focus on DFID and the FCO. ICAI found that while Departments had worked flexibly with private and NGO suppliers to minimise the disruption to programmes caused by the pandemic, the lack of transparency in the Government’s decision-making–especially as regards its revised aid priorities–and the issued ban for Departments from providing any information on those aid priorities had restricted the suppliers’ capacity to plan effectively and had hampered their delivery of UK-ODA funded projects.
6.We are considering the impact of these spending reductions on the effectiveness of the UK’s development work, and also the impact of the Government’s decision to merge DFID with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to create the new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) in September 2020. It was confirmed in December 2020 that our Committee will remain in place as a standalone body scrutinising UK aid expenditure, including the portion implemented by Departments other than the FCDO.
7.One focus for us is on the anticipated date for a return to the spending of 0.7% of GNI on ODA. On 26 November 2020, the Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary (‘the Foreign Secretary’), announced that the Government was considering an amendment to the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, which enshrines annual commitment to 0.7% in law. Although he referred to the planned reduction to 0.5% of GNI as a “temporary measure”, we are concerned that the amendment to the 2015 Act could enable a more prolonged and entrenched reduction in aid spending by the Government.
8.The reduction of UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) from 0.7% to 0.5% of annual Gross National Income (GNI) from 2021 necessitates an approach which ensures that UK ODA is spent in a more strategic and effective way than ever before. This approach should be reflected in the priorities set and the programmes funded by the FCDO in relation to the secondary impacts of covid-19. Drawing the right lessons from the multiple, significant changes since January 2020 is essential to ensuring an effective, long-term response to the secondary impacts of covid-19. We ask the FCDO to tell us how they or the Government decided on which programmes and themes to prioritise, how they assessed the impact of their decisions to cut funding on recipient countries and populations, and how they intend to strengthen their engagement with NGOs and private suppliers during the implementation of the Government’s announced reduction of UK ODA to 0.5% of GNI.
9.The strategy and priorities for the UK’s ODA policy have also been revised. The Foreign Secretary wrote to us in November outlining a new Strategic Framework for ODA, which will replace the 2015 UK Aid Strategy. In his letter, the Foreign Secretary told us that, “to end the proliferation of policy priorities across Whitehall, all aid will be focused on seven global challenges where the UK can make the most difference”:
10.Most of these areas follow on from the priorities for 2020 ODA spending, set out in the Foreign Secretary’s letter to us in July 2020. However, a specific commitment to poverty reduction, focused on the ‘bottom billion’, is absent from the revised framework, and two new priorities—humanitarian preparedness and response as well as trade and economic development—have been added. The conclusions from the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy—which are expected to be published early in 2021—might result in further changes to the UK’s international development policy.
11.The response to the covid-19 pandemic has been, and will continue to be, a priority for the UK’s ODA spending even as the overall ODA budget has been reduced. At the time of publication, the roll-out of a variety of anti-covid-19 vaccines was gathering pace in many countries. COVAX (the equitable distribution mechanism) was looking to access nearly two billion doses of several promising vaccine candidates—and secure further doses through contributions from donors—leading to delivery of at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses of approved vaccines in 2021 to 92 low and middle-income economies.2 But, while the impact of the disease remains severe and the challenges around global vaccine distribution are great, the most long-lasting effect of covid-19 risks comes from its secondary impacts. In previous evidence before our committee, the Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, then Secretary of State for DFID, stated that:
“We have before us a health crisis, a humanitarian crisis and an economic crisis, which threatens to undo 30 years of international development work.”
12.We support the Foreign Secretary’s inclusion of key secondary impacts of covid-19, such as famine, in the new Strategic Framework for UK ODA. However, we are concerned that the framework omits other crucial areas, including an explicit commitment to poverty reduction.
13.To strengthen the UK’s approach to tackling the secondary impacts of covid-19 in developing countries, the FCDO should design, apply and publish a long-term strategy relating to covid-19 by the end of the financial year. It should then revisit its ‘seven global challenges’ outlined in the new Strategic Framework for UK ODA, and provide us with a written assessment of how the framework will deliver this strategy, and how the framework will be amended accordingly if necessary. At a multilateral level, the UK should advocate for a joined-up recovery strategy to the pandemic, including using its presidencies of the G7 and COP26 to demonstrate global leadership in this area.
14.Vulnerable groups are feeling the impact of the pandemic particularly acutely, reflecting yet again the need to adopt an inclusive approach to tackling the secondary impacts of covid-19 and to ensure that no-one is left behind. However, the crisis seems to be reinforcing pre-existing inequalities and discrimination, and evidence from the UN suggests that the response to covid-19 features stigmatisation and discrimination of already vulnerable groups based on gender, age, perceived ability and income.
15.In their submission, Scotland’s International Development Alliance told us that,
“It has been said that this disease ‘does not discriminate’—but that’s not true. If you are already a marginalised or vulnerable group, this pandemic will affect you more.”
Other contributors echoed this view. We heard repeatedly that poor, marginalised groups are at risk of being left behind in the covid-19 response due to non-prioritisation as a result of insufficient data, insufficient access to basic facilities such as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to protect themselves, and insufficiently adapted forms of communication. Several NGOs called for more accurate, inclusive and evidence-based planning and decision-making with regards to the covid-19 response and stressed the need for disaggregated data according to sex, ability, age and status to protect vulnerable groups, increase their resilience to the secondary impacts and build back better.
16.The FCDO told us that the Government was calling for greater engagement with communities in global and bilateral dialogues and was promoting a rights-based, inclusive approach to the covid-19 response. Prior to the merger, DFID was working on improved disaggregation of data to inform its policies in order to contribute to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as implementing the UN principle of leaving no one behind. DFID launched its Data Disaggregation Action Plan in January 2017. It upgraded the plan to its Inclusive Data Charter Action Plan (“Every person counts and will be counted”) in 2018 following the UK’s co-hosting of the Global Disability Summit on 24 July 2018 and commitment to the summit’s Inclusive Data Charter. The submissions we received from DFID and from the FCDO did not mention these measures explicitly. Rather, in their submission in April 2020, DFID stated that they were aiming to disaggregate data by several criteria including sex, age and disability to improve their response to the challenges faced by the various vulnerable groups.
17.The pandemic is having a particularly detrimental effect upon already vulnerable groups by reinforcing inequalities and discrimination. To counteract this, we recommend that the FCDO take the following steps:
The UK should use this data to inform future decision-making on UK ODA, and thus increase its value for money by enhancing the effectiveness of UK ODA and facilitating transparency in accounting for it.
18.During our inquiry, we heard a number of calls for increased engagement with and direct funding for UK aid partners in the covid-19 response. Contributors considered the Government’s provision of £20 million to UK NGOs in form of the Rapid Response Facility insufficient. They further stressed the Government’s commitment to the Grand Bargain, an initiative that commits donors and aid organisations to providing more non-earmarked funds, more multi-year funding, and 25% of global humanitarian funding to local and national responders by 2020 to ensure greater predictability and continuity in humanitarian aid provision.
19.We heard that NGOs faced difficulties in accessing funds and responding to donor requests. We were told that many local women’s rights organisations were “operating largely on a shoestring”. According to Lee Webster, Co-Chair at the Gender and Development Network, and Deputy Director of International Development Policy and Practice at ActionAid UK, the median funds for women’s rights organisations are under $20,000 per year. Ms Webster also told us that partner NGOs were finding it difficult to access and manage funding from donors—including the FCDO—due to perceived stringent requirements arising from what large international donors such as FCDO or the multilateral organisations want to fund and the mismatch with local communities’ own agendas and needs.
20.Witnesses to our session on the future of UK aid in December 2020 reiterated these concerns regarding local organisations. Harpinder Collacott, Executive Director at Development Initiatives, told us that “the UK does not have a very successful track record of channelling its aid to local organisations” and that some of the administrative requests upon local aid partners were too extensive to fulfil at their size. Ms Collacott added that “Despite changes that have been recommended, small organisations, consortia led by locally owned organisations such as those in Sub–Saharan Africa, often do not make it through the door at all.” We also heard that comparatively larger, international organisations were also finding it difficult to comply with UK-ODA related due diligence requirements. Gwen Hines, Executive Director of Global Programmes at Save the Children, told us about a case where it took a member of staff from her organisation “more than 1,000 hours” to fill in the DFID due diligence requirements.
21.We also heard that NGOs felt excluded from the designing, planning, co-ordination and decision-making processes in response to covid-19. ActionAid UK told us that they had received “consistent feedback” from 18 women’s rights organisations interviewed in June 2020, who said that they felt excluded. Contributors called for the removal of barriers to the work of local NGOs such as designation as non-key workers and subsequent movement restrictions. Witnesses stressed that they were capable of working at scale and managing large amounts of UK ODA as parts of NGO consortia, thus challenging the statement by DFID in April 2020 that “Only by working through multilateral organisations can we achieve the scale of action and coordination needed to overcome this global crisis.” We were told that in order to enhance value for money in the spending of UK ODA, the FCDO should increase direct funding for NGOs at the frontline, move away from the tendency of providing mega-contracts, and “take out that middle man” in the form of multilateral organisations to a greater extent.
22.Replenishment and increased funding for pre-covid-19 programmes, as well as for programmes launched as a direct response to the pandemic, are a great concern for contributors. Dr Graham MacKay, Chief Operating Officer at Bond, told us that “the capability of the UK international development sector is being heavily reduced” by a “collapse in a lot of public fundraising, and fundraising opportunities” following the emergence of covid-19. Furthermore, the sector has been hit by a “perfect storm of many negative trends” which may last for several years in the form of recent cuts to UK ODA and closures of many NGOs. This, Dr MacKay argues, will impact negatively on the capacity of UK NGOs to support vulnerable groups in low and middle-income countries.
23.Without sufficient, continued funding and support for UK aid partners, the secondary impacts upon vulnerable groups could be significant. Gwen Hines told us that, although the numbers of covid-19 cases had been lower than expected in developing countries, in terms of covid-19’s secondary impacts: “the poverty impact, the nutrition [impact] and the numbers of people falling into hardship are horrendous.” Donal Brown, Associate Vice-President at the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), warned that,
“this is not going to go away in three or six months’ time. The impact of covid, particularly on poor people’s lives, will be felt for ages, because they are often on the edge, and a thing like this will knock them way back over”.
24.In December 2020, the Foreign Secretary told us in a letter that he was “determined to get the best impact for the money we spend” by granting “a genuine choice of delivery mechanisms, rather than the reliance on mega-contracts with delivery agents.” The Foreign Secretary further wrote that the spending limits known as Total Operating Cost controls, which he referred to as “restrictive and outdated” and as forcing “Departments like DFID to outsource work to expensive consultants “, would be lifted to allow “greater flexibility to design the best project”.
25.Darren Welch, then Director of Policy at the FCDO, told us during our oral evidence session on 24 November 2020 that the Department was trying to provide a “system that is proportionate”. As part of the FCDO’s small charities fund, smaller organisations bidding for smaller amount of money were subject to “much lighter processes” as “where the sums are smaller, we have smaller requirements”, according to Mr Welch. He also stated that the FCDO had worked closely with aid partners to adapt their contracts and set programmes, render their funding more flexible and thus help partners respond to covid-19 effectively. Furthermore, DFID funded the £40 million Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) Innovation Labs from 2014 to 2019, which aimed at improving the quality and speed of humanitarian response through direct engagement with disaster-affected communities and local NGOs.
26.We welcome the Government’s intention to reduce the number of expensive mega-contracts for the delivery of UK-ODA funded projects. To ensure that NGOs are able to continue essential work with vulnerable communities, the FCDO should replenish funds used by NGOs to tackle the impact of covid-19 in place of other activities. Furthermore, the FCDO should ensure that it provides more direct funding for local, frontline NGOs and its partner organisations as part of the greater flexibility in designing projects mentioned in the Foreign Secretary’s letter to us on 2 December 2020. We urge the Government to increase the effectiveness of development programmes by incentivising delivery partners to include local NGOs in the planning, co-ordination and decision-making on the covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, we ask the FCDO to update us on the lessons it learned from its programme “Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) Innovation Labs” which ran from 2014–2019 and aimed at improving responsiveness to communities through direct engagement with local NGOs.
5 International Development Committee, , published 22 September 2020
6 HC Deb, 25 November 2020, & [Commons Chamber]
7 HC Deb, 25 November 2020, [Commons Chamber]
8 HC Deb, 25 November 2020, [Commons Chamber]
9 Gov.uk, , page 14, accessed 19 January 2021
10 Independent Commission for Aid Impact, , accessed 19 January 2021
11 Independent Commission for Aid Impact, , accessed 19 January 2021
12 Our findings on the implications of the merger for the UK’s international development policies are set out in our report on the effectiveness of UK aid published in July 2020. See, International Development Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2019–21, , HC 596.
13 , International Development Committee press release, 9 December 2020
14 HC Deb, 26 November 2020, [Commons Chamber]
15 HC Deb, 26 November 2020, [Commons Chamber]
16 The mechanisms of the anticipate exigencies such as adverse economic or fiscal conditions and events outside the UK that the Secretary of State may use to explain a failure to meet the 0.7% target. The Act also makes no provision about penalty for failure to meet the target.
17 International Development Committee, , first published 25 November 2020
18 “International Development Committee, , published 27 September 2020. In his letter, the Foreign Secretary announced that the UK would focus on “poverty reduction for the ‘bottom billion’, as well as tackling climate change and reversing biodiversity loss, championing girls education, UK leadership in the global response to Covid-19, and campaigning on issues such as media freedom and freedom of religious belief, thereby ensuring that the UK is a global force for good”. Furthermore, the Government had “also sought to protect the UK’s science and research and development base.”
19 [Anne-Marie Trevelyan]
20 “”, UNESCO, 7 April 2020
21 Scotland’s International Development Alliance ()
22 Social Development Direct (), Tearfund ()
23 Bond (), CBM UK (), Action for Global Health (), Institute of Development Studies (), ARISE Consortium ()
24 Bond (), Oxfam GB (), Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance, ODI) ()
25 ADD International (), Humanity & Inclusion UK (), Sightsavers ()
26 Humanity & Inclusion UK (), Action for Global Health Network (), Institute of Development Studies (), Bond Disability and Development Group (), ADD International (), International Disability and Development Consortium and International Disability Alliance (joint submission) (), Oxfam GB (), Bond Disability and Development Group (), Sightsavers (), Gender and Development Network (), Leonard Cheshire (), Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS) (), ActionAid UK (), CBM UK (), Institute of Development Studies (), ARISE Consortium ()
27 Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office ()
28 See, , by Philip Cockerill, DFID Statistics Adviser, 2 April 2019, now FCDO Research
29 Gov.uk, , accessed 19 January 2021
30 Department for International Development ()
31 [Aleema Shivji], [Gwen Hines], International Rescue Committee (), Bond (), ActionAid UK (), Peace Direct (), UNFPA (), War Child UK ()
32 “”, Gov.uk Press Release, 12 April 2020; [Robert Mardini], [Bob Kitchen], Department for International Development (), Concern Worldwide (UK) (), CARE International UK (), World Vision UK ()
33 Mercy Corps) (), Bond Disability and Development Group (), International Committee of the Red Cross (), Oxfam GB (), Center for Global Development (), Street Child (), Action for Global Health Network ()
34 [Lee Webster], [Gwen Hines]
35 [Lee Webster]
36 [Lee Webster]
37 [Lee Webster]
38 [Harpinder Collacott]
39 [Harpinder Collacott]
40 [Gwen Hines]
41 ActionAid UK (), Bond (), Christian Aid (), Oxfam GB ()
42 ActionAid UK ()
43 ActionAid UK (), Humanity & Inclusion UK (), International Rescue Committee (), Overseas Development Institute (), Plan International UK ()
44 [Bob Kitchen], [Gwen Hines]
45 Department for International Development ()
46 [Aleema Shivji]
47 [Mark Miller]
48 [Gwen Hines]: Gwen Hines: “[…] If you think about the different layers that apply, when it goes from the UK Government to the UN, the UN does not deliver in many cases. I am not talking about UNFPA here. Much of the work that happens is then subcontracted to NGOs and to local partners. You could take out that middleman.”
49 [Lamis Al-Iryani], [Sultana Begum], [Gwen Hines], Fairtrade Foundation (), Concern Worldwide UK (), ActionAid UK (), VSO (), ADD International ()
50 [Graham MacKay]
51 [Graham MacKay]
52 [Graham MacKay]
53 [Graham MacKay]
54 [Gwen Hines]
55 [Donal Brown]
56 International Development Committee, , first published 25 November 2020
58 [Darren Welch]
59 [Darren Welch]
60 [Darren Welch]
61 Department for International Development - International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), , accessed 19 January 2021