By Anthony Mangnall MP and Baroness Liz Sugg
This article was originally published in the Times Red Box on Wednesday May 18, 2022.
From relative consensus in Westminster, recent years have seen a broader debate on how much we spend on international development and how we do it. This week the government published its long-awaited International Development Strategy, the first since 2015.
The UK rightly has a great deal to boast about when it comes to our international development programme. From supporting 1.5 million girls and young women in getting access to education, to reaching over 32.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, to playing a key role in the fight against polio and malaria. The UK’s work overseas has seen us ban land mines, assist vulnerable and conflict-affected countries and provide safeguarding against sexual abuse and violence. There is a plethora of successes of which we ought to be proud. Our development ambitions not only provided hope for the future but showed the UK taking a global approach to some of the world’s most intractable problems. In doing so, we have provided global leadership and encouraged other countries to follow suit. Across the Commonwealth and throughout the Western world, countries competed for our coveted “development superpower” credentials.
The UK’s role as an “international responder” is clearly demonstrated in our response to the war in Ukraine. Our military support, already well documented and commented upon, shows the UK, far from shirking its responsibilities, providing the support and security needed in this fractured and fragile world to support our neighbours and allies. Our humanitarian assistance has seen us pledge £394 million to Ukraine, through a three-year £100 million package of aid, £220 million in humanitarian assistance and £74 million in social protection and core services. There is little doubt we are playing our part but also ensuring that development assistance, so needed by the people of Ukraine, is at the core of our response.
The Government’s new International Development Strategy is the first since the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Whilst there are valid criticisms of this reorganisation, the decision has been made, and the strategy offers the chance to align our development strategy with our foreign policy. Now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has the opportunity to ensure that not only are our ambitions are aligned, but that transparency, outcomes and value for money are at the centre of its work.
The Strategy offers not just humanitarian assistance but investment to help countries grow. Economic empowerment and thriving economies will always play a more significant role in development and conflict prevention than humanitarian assistance. Importantly, it offers a real alternative to the Chinese “debt-trap model”, through the advancement of institutions such as the British International Investment organisation, the UK development finance institution. Innovative finance is needed to provide support for the business development and infrastructure projects that are needed for countries to develop, grow their economies, and create the stability needed to ultimately progress from requiring development assistance.
The Strategy promises greater levels of engagement and co-operation with the private sector, NGOs and other partners which will help to rebuild the expertise lost over the pandemic and ensure better outcomes through bilateral programmes. Aid organisations might expect to find improved response times to humanitarian crises. The new “Centres of Expertise” will provide the rapid response required while also learning from business, academia and civil society.
Finally, there is a welcome focus on women and girls, including a commitment to restore funding. The strategy builds upon the UK’s success in combating sexual violence in conflict. Far from reinventing the wheel, this strategy looks to continue to work in educating, empowering and ending violence against women and girls. There is a commitment to working to ensure women’s voices are heard at all social, political and economic levels, and a promise to continue investment in sexual and reproductive health — both issues vital to allow women’s full potential to be realised to the benefit of their families, their communities, and their countries. The UK’s success in this area is laudable and the forthcoming Women and Girls Strategy 2022 will outline further work to be completed.
As co-chairs of the Conservative Friends of International Development, we are pleased to see a strategy that seeks to provide more transparency, offer innovative finance and build upon some of the excellent work achieved through our humanitarian programmes to date. But we also see the need for greater detail on how international organisations will be involved, what funding will be available and how these policies will work in practice rather than on paper. It is this detail which will ensure that UK Aid is spent effectively, delivering for both the British taxpayer and achieving transformational change around the world.
The pandemic has severely impacted development outcomes and the UK’s ability to provide assistance. It is therefore more important than ever that we use this strategy to re-energise our determination to help those most in need. While the hiatus from 0.7 per cent has undoubtedly impacted our standing, let us hope that this strategy marks not just a return to this level of funding but a better understanding of the value and need for international development.