The creation of DFID as an independent department is one of the greatest achievements of the last Labour government. We set the UK on the path to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid, and by the time we had left office, UK aid was helping lift 3 million people out of poverty each year.
The scrapping of DFID is a shameful decision by this Tory government. By law, UK aid is meant to be focused on poverty reduction, not for any other reason. The best way to ensure that is through an independent department, with a Secretary of State around the Cabinet table. Aid spent by other UK Government departments is consistently rated poorly by independent auditors for its transparency, value for money, and most importantly, its effectiveness.
And when development agencies sit under the Foreign Office, that focus gets subverted. Before DFID was created by Labour, the Pergau dam affair saw Tories spend hundreds of millions of pounds in UK aid linked to a major arms deal. In Australia, the scrapping of AusAid has seen them lose much of their expertise and money diverted house refugees within Australia instead of development projects. The Tories own statement decries that we give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, more to Tanzania than to the Balkans. Of course the people of the Ukraine and the Balkans deserve our support – but Zambia and Tanzania have greater levels of poverty, so they must continue to receive our aid.
We’re not here to argue that Absent Minister Trevelyan should keep her job, but having a Secretary of State around the Cabinet table is also essential, because it is meant to mean that development issues are discussed at the highest levels of government. That when the Cabinet discusses the UK’s approach to a global crisis or G20 or G7 summit, the Secretary of State is there to push for development issues to be part of the agenda.
Quite obviously, there is a global crisis happening right now that Britain and DFID should be playing a leading role in tackling – one that is hitting the world’s poorest hard. Just at a time when DFID, with it’s two decades worth of expertise, should be helping lead the global response, they have been side-lined. Just when the world needs global leadership, this Tory government is not only no-where to be seen, but making the problem worse.
Shame on them.