A genuine international development budget would prioritise sustainable economic development and help to tackle the crises that prevent it
06 Apr 2016In his budget speech, George Osborne was clear to again confirm the commitment of the British government to 0.7& spending on international development. Since 2002 successive British governments have committed to spending 0.7% of national output on development and aid, and the last Parliament voted to enshrine this commitment.
However, there are growing concerns that this Tory government is using that budget for a different 'security' agenda, not solely for international development.
Occasionally some examples of this come to light, such as the proposed repatriation of Jamaican prisoners to a new prison paid for by DfID last year.
Yet this is only one example of a wider trend. The driving force behind this regressive agenda is the UK Treasury making cuts to other departments whilst being formally committed to the 0.7%. In November it published a strategy document setting out a new framework for the aid budget. In this, Chancellor George Osborne and International Development Secretary Justine Greening state, "We want to meet our promises to the world's poor and also put international development at the heart of our national security and foreign policy."
Without any hint of irony it lists a series of past achievements, on provision of healthcare, education, alleviating poverty and so on, and declares that the basis on which these successes have been made will be fundamentally altered, putting in doubt the principle that the distribution of aid must be primarily based on the interests of those who need. The document mentions security thirty two times but fails to mention inequality.
Global Justice Now have argued that "Never since DfID was first created as an independent department in 1997 has a government strategy so clearly linked aid with the UK's defence and foreign policy objectives."
The effect is twofold. The aims of international development are to be explicitly linked to the Government's 'security-based' foreign policy. Whilst, of course, international development funding can undoubtedly help in peace-making efforts, if more spending goes on areas where the UK militarily involved, there is a risk of aid being used to support UK military activities. The government’s militarisation of the aid budget makes a mockery of Britain’s legal commitment to use aid only to reduce poverty and will inevitably divert development aid away from those most in need.
Furthermore, following a successful lobbying campaign by the British government – and against the arguments of more sensible and less militarised donor nations such as Sweden – the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD has widened the definition of overseas development assistance (ODA) to allow for aid to be used for military purposes. Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Programme, has commented that this change would hurt and possibly even destabilise poor countries.
And at the same time, the method for reaching development aims are increasingly driven by the Tories' neo-liberal ideological agenda. So, for example, DfID has channelled millions of pounds into the harnessing non-state actors for better health for the poor (Hanshep) scheme, which promotes private sector investment in the health sectors of poor countries.
There will be a new cross-government approach to the DfID budget with "more aid will be administrated by other government departments", meaning other departments could increasingly be accessing its funds to soften the blow of spending cuts, despite the 0.7% of Gross National Income formally being maintained.
In particular, the government has empowered the MoD and the Foreign Office to spend more and more of Britain’s aid budget at the expense of the DFID: over the course of the parliament the amount of aid spent outside DFID will triple to around £5 billion in 2020. Yet neither the MoD nor the Foreign Office report on their projects in a systematic way, unlike DFID which reports on projects month by month. We have not had project-level data, for example, from the Foreign Office since the May election.
A genuine international development budget would prioritise sustainable economic development and help to tackle the crises that prevent it, such as HIV/AIDs and other diseases, climate change and the disastrous and continuing refugee crisis. It would benefit the rest of the world and thereby also boost British prosperity.
But the current Tory government is subordinating these aims to an ideologically-driven agenda. Additionally, I fear that by spending our aid on militaries in fragile, often undemocratic states, we are at considerable risk of using taxpayers’ money to make these countries more fragile and more undemocratic.
We must stand firmly behind the achievement of the 0.7% commitment and for its correct use to improve the lives of millions around the world.
* This article originally appeared in Labour Briefing (Co-operative)