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Questions grow over DfID’s ‘ring-fenced’ budget

26 July 2010

Rumours over the security of DfID’s budget have been mounting over the last few weeks. Today in the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting raises questions over the pressure coming from the Right for Cameron’s government to change their approach to the international development budget.

The Coalition Government came to power promising to ring-fence international development spending, yet doubts have already begun to emerge over the ways in which money will be spent and, now, whether the pressure to cut will overwhelm Cameron and his team.

Such a move would not only run counter to 13 years of progressive aid policy, but jeopardise the UK’s reputation as a leader in international development.

Interestingly, Bunting notes that:

“The best defence of DfID he can’t – won’t – use. It’s a department which went from strength to strength under a succession of passionately committed ministers under Labour and, now not only has a much bigger budget than the Foreign Office but has assumed much of the prestige and status, both at home and abroad, of its former parent department. Last week the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) gave a stunning end-of-term report, praising DfID for its “capable, mission-driven and decentralised development ministry … [it] makes continuous efforts to improve its efficiency and effectiveness”, and has achieved “national and international recognition for its professionalism and ability to deliver its aid programme”.”

Voices from the Right might, therefore, win over. But this will be nothing short of a betrayal of the world’s poor. The truth of the matter is:

“DfID can point to a string of achievements. British aid pays for 5 million children in primary school, a comparable figure to the number of British primary school children for a fraction of the cost, just 2.5%. Or take the much smaller but fascinating example of M-Pesa, the mobile phone money-transfer scheme launched by a £1m DfID matching grant with Vodaphone. In its first three years in Kenya it expanded to 8 million users; now it is being adopted in countries all over the world, including Afghanistan, to transfer small amounts of money for those who don’t have sufficient resources to be served by the formal banking system. DfID has dozens such stories of how aid has to be part of any sensible strategy for Britain’s role in the world, trying to help countries break out of a poverty trap to achieve prosperity and stability. The sums involved are tiny: DfID’s total budget is £7bn, only 2% of total government spending; it’ a fraction of what the country spends on gambling, alcohol or defence.”

Calls to scrap DfID’s budget, or the Department itself, have come from some notable Tory grandees, but they are, quite simply wrong. Andrew Mitchell would do well to ignore them. 

You can read the article in full on The Guardian website.

UPDATE: There is a second article in The Guardian today calling on the Government to protect aid. According to Larry Elliott, Labour’s legacy is strong: “It was not just that Labour worked hard at home and abroad to push for debt relief and a doubling of G8 aid, it was also that Brown and Tony Blair changed the political weather when it came to development.”

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