British policy must move far beyond aid for global impact

02 February 2015

The Government must evolve to find new ways of working with emerging powers and developing countries, and the Department for International Development must do more to influence policy across the whole of Government, say MPs.

The number of low income countries is falling. Within that group, most of the poorest countries - and overall, 22 out of DFID’s portfolio of 28 countries - are fragile states, requiring multiple and complex interventions. At the same time, the importance of global issues - conflict, climate, migration, trade, tax, financial stability, youth unemployment, urbanisation economic development, and infectious disease - is rising.

The Committee argues that aid remains vital for addressing poverty in poor countries, for encouraging economic development, for providing global goods such as tackling climate change, combating diseases such as Ebola and providing humanitarian assistance, but is not sufficient to meet these challenges.

  • As our aid relationship with some emerging powers, such as India, changes, new forms of co-operation have to be developed. This will include new financial mechanisms and facilitating links with UK institutions in a wide range of areas, including health, education, culture, law, culture and science. This will be labour-intensive, requiring DFID to put more emphasis on working with small organisations and less on programme management.
  • As the focus moves away from aid, policy coherence for development must be at the heart of a new approach. This means working across Government in the UK, and with global partners in the multilateral system, to maximise the impact on development of all the UK’s actions.

Committee Chair Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, said

"Aid is essential if we are to reduce poverty and reach ambitious development and environmental goals. But it isn’t enough. Our policies in the UK on trade, tax, finance, arms or corruption all impact on developing countries. The UK has a good track record in some areas, but is not systematic.

We need to ensure that policies across Government are joined up and we want DFID to have more influence both in Whitehall and in developing countries. New forms of co-operation have to be developed which facilitate links with UK institutions in a wide range of areas, including health, education, law, culture and science. This will be labour-intensive, and require DFID to put more emphasis on new skills."

The Committee praises the UK's commitment in reaching the 0.7 target of aid as a share of national income, and Government successes in tacking cross-border issues like female genital mutilation and Ebola. However, too often the Government places too little emphasis on ensuring that its wider policies are coherent. The Committee urges the National Security Council to adopt an approach less driven by military response to crises.

Committee Chair Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, commented further

"Aid remains essential in our modern world, to respond at times of crisis, and to help the poorest people in the poorest countries build sustainable livelihoods. We also think aid has a role to play in some middle income countries, like India, China, and Brazil, especially building new partnerships for the future.

However, the number of poor countries is falling, and those that remain often suffer from conflict, so need multiple interventions. Furthermore, rich and poor countries together must face up to big global challenges like climate change or disease epidemics that have the potential to impact on us all– and these require not just money but new forms of cooperation.

That is why development in the future will not just be about aid. When the Government puts its mind to it, the results are impressive. The UK often leads in shaping the global agenda, as it has done for example on women and girls. But the evidence we received shows the record is patchy. We call on the Government to up its game and make policy coherence a central priority. In addition, we call on the Government to give greater emphasis to facilitating links between UK and developing and emerging countries. Moreover, the growth of emerging powers will require changes to international financial institutions if they are to be relevant for the future.

These changes will require DFID staff to develop different skills. In addition, to traditional skills in programme management, DFID must ensure it has people with a strong sense of the cultural context in which they work and the ability to influence key individuals and organisations."

Further information

Image: Department for International Development

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