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DFID should spend UK aid better, not spend less

28 March 2017

The International Development Committee has underlined its support for the UK's commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development assistance, with a primary focus on tackling poverty reduction.

In UK aid: allocation of resources, the Committee reports that UK aid spending can be, and often is, a strong investment contributing to create a more prosperous world, which pays far-reaching dividends including to UK taxpayers at home.

Foreign aid is the most scrutinised part of UK Government spending. The Committee reports that DFID is effective in its spending and that it has not seen evidence to suggest that DFID suffers from poor or wasteful spending, any more than other government departments or international donors.

The Secretary of State is challenged to tell the positive story of UK aid. MPs say the Department must be proactive in publicising the good work that results from the UK's funding. DFID must explain how it sets the balance between bilateral and multilateral spending and should reconsider its decision to end core support to civil society organisations.

While DFID spending on UK aid is effective, the Committee is concerned about a lack of emphasis on strategy in the spending of UK aid. This concern is amplified as the allocation of aid spreads across government departments. The Committee believes DFID should remain a standalone department with formal oversight and co-ordination role for all UK aid spending.

Chair's comments

Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The great need for development assistance globally and the life changing opportunities it provides, including in a number of ongoing abject humanitarian crises, has not changed. We reiterate that tackling poverty reduction must be the primary purpose of any aid spending.

The 2015 UK aid strategy sought to demonstrate how overseas development assistance is in the UK's national interest. Through our inquiries in this Parliament, the Committee has seen first-hand that this is true. UK aid spending has allowed refugees fleeing the war in Syria to settle closer to home, and has provided support to help create jobs and livelihoods for those refugees, so that they did not have to make dangerous journeys across Europe.

However, the Department needs to publicise its good work to a wider audience. DFID decisions on the allocation of resources should be based on evidence.

We are particularly concerned that a lack of strategic direction is holding UK aid back. This is more important than ever, with increasing amounts of aid being spent by government departments other than DFID. The basis on which aid spending decisions across the Government are made needs to be clear.

“It is absolutely right that Government demonstrates that every penny is spent as effectively as possible. Supported by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the National Audit Office, the Committee's primary function is to scrutinise spending to ensure it achieves maximum benefit for beneficiaries and the UK taxpayer. Our robust scrutiny of aid and development expenditure will continue.”

Further information

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