UK government urged to tackle aid inconsistencies

4 Feb 19

The UK government’s “inconsistent” spending of its aid budget is undermining efforts to tackle extreme poverty, a campaign group has warned.

The ONE Campaign, which advocates action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, said Whitehall lacked transparency on how it was spending its aid money and that not all government departments are focused on reducing poverty – a UK aid funding priority.

It added that a “huge gulf” in spending standards is undermining public trust and value for money, as it released its Real Aid Index today.

“Inconsistent and unfocused aid spending by parts of the British government is failing the world’s poorest people,” it said.

The UK is one of only a few countries in the world to meet a UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid.

Romilly Greenhill, UK director of ONE, said money allocated by the Department for International Development (DfID), which spends around 70% of the £14bn annual aid budget, scored highly for poverty focus, effectiveness and transparency – but that other departments do not “adhere to these principles” and “are not delivering real aid”.

The index, which looks at five departments that spend more than £100m of the aid budget, revealed that only 5% of the £765m spent by the business, energy and industrial strategy department (BEIS) and 16% of the £1.05bn spent by the Foreign Office went to the world’s poorest countries. 

It also highlighted that £1.5bn of aid is spent with “barely any transparency about where and how it is delivered”, due to inefficient reporting.

“If aid is going to richer countries or on programmes that don’t address poverty, then [government departments] are not only failing the people it’s meant for, they are letting down the UK taxpayer,” Greenhill said.

Despite the fact that UK aid is officially ‘untied’ – meaning spending on goods and services is not ‘tied’ to providers from the donor country – at least £475m of aid comes with “strings attached”, The ONE Campaign said, meaning it has to be spent through UK institutions.

The Index revealed that the Department of Health, which funds research on preventable diseases, does spend its aid on projects to reduce poverty. BEIS also performed well on transparency, with accessible information about its aid spending. 

The Home Office, which spent £352m in Official Development Assistance in 2017, scored poorly on all three areas. The FCO scored poorly on poverty focus and also lacked transparency and effectiveness overall.

The ONE Campaign called on the Treasury to take the opportunity of this year’s spending review to ensure taxpayers are getting value for money and that aid is targeted at poverty reduction.


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