MPs BACK 0.7% TARGET FOR UK AID BUT WARN IT PUTS POVERTY FOCUS AT RISK
A Report published today by the International Development Select Committee argues that the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of national income as Official Development Assistance (ODA) by 2013 must be met whichever party wins the General Election and whether or not legislation is taken forward to enshrine the target in law.
The MPs also warned that any diversion of aid spending to ministries other than the Department for International Development could undermine the UK’s commitment to giving priority to reducing poverty in the poorest countries.
The Report examines the draft International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill, published by the Government in January. If enacted, the Bill would make it a legislative requirement for the UK Government to allocate 0.7% of Gross National Income to aid expenditure from 2013 and in each subsequent year.
The UK made the commitment to meet this longstanding UN target in 2004, ahead of the EU, marking it out as a leader in international development. The Report argues that the UK must maintain and build on this reputation by ensuring it reaches 0.7% by 2013. However, it does not believe that making the target a legal obligation will necessarily be enough to galvanise other countries to honour their own commitments, especially those suffering the worst effects of the recession.
The Chairman of the Committee,
Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP, said:
The UK will provide at least 0.56% of national income as ODA this year. It has maintained its progress towards the 0.7% target in spite of the difficult economic situation. The forthcoming UN summit on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals in September 2010 is an important moment for donors to renew their aid commitments - some have already fallen short. We understand that countries often fail to meet their aid commitments because of political and economic circumstances unrelated to the acknowledged need for aid. The UK has made clear that, even in difficult economic times, aid promises must be kept.
The Department for International Development (DFID) has tighter rules about what can be classified as aid expenditure than those applied internationally. The 2002 International Development Act requires spending by the Department to be devoted entirely to poverty reduction. However, not all funding classified as aid is spent by DFID. The Report warns that the requirement to meet the target for larger amounts of aid may create the temptation to spend more aid through other government departments on projects which do not have poverty reduction as their primary objective.
The Chairman said:
The draft Bill does not propose any changes to the 2002 International Development Act. However, there is a danger that, as aid levels increase over the next few years to meet the agreed 0.7% target, more ODA will be spent through other government departments, for example to respond to climate change or security threats. We are concerned that this will reduce the impact of UK aid on poverty reduction. The Government should make the process more transparent by providing more detail in its annual reports about which government departments spent aid money and what it was spent on. We also think the Government should explore the possibility of making all bilateral ODA subject to the 2002 International Development Act.
The Report concluded that the measures in the draft Bill aimed at holding the Government to account on the 0.7% target were too weak. In particular, the Bill allows the Government to cite “economic, fiscal or external circumstances” as possible reasons for not meeting the target. The Committee believes that the Bill should not try to pre-empt or legitimise failure by including a list of acceptable reasons for missing the target. The words should be omitted from any future legislation. Instead, if the target were to be missed in one year, the Government should publish an action plan which clearly sets out how it will be met the following year.
DFID also needs to improve the way it informs taxpayers about the benefits which development expenditure brings to poor countries to help maintain public support for aid. However, the draft Bill made no attempt to set out the tangible improvements which increased aid expenditure might bring in areas such as health and education in developing countries.
The Chairman said:
Maintaining public support for aid is vital, especially during periods of economic downturn, when there are many pressures to reduce public expenditure. A detailed assessment of the likely impact of the aid target should have accompanied the draft Bill. This would have contributed to an informed public debate.
Committee Membership is as follows: Malcolm Bruce MP (Chairman, Lib Dem), John Battle MP (Lab), Hugh Bayley MP (Lab), Richard Burden MP (Lab), Mr Nigel Evans MP (Con), Mr Mark Hendrick MP (Lab/Co-op), Daniel Kawczynski MP (Con), Mr Mark Lancaster MP (Con), Mr Virendra Sharma (Lab), Mr Marsha Singh MP (Lab), Andrew Stunell MP (Lib Dem).
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