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Sub-inquiry into the philosophy of aid launched

14 July 2021

Members of Parliament of the International Development Committee are embarking on a wide-ranging inquiry into some of the big, sometimes philosophical questions around the purpose of foreign aid.

The MPs on the Committee, who scrutinise the government’s foreign aid policy and spending to ensure there is good value for money for taxpayers, intend that the issues raised by their inquiry will help shape government policy. They expect the answers to feed into the Committee’s recommendations to the new international development strategy which the government has said it will be launching within months.

The work is officially called the Sub-inquiry into the philosophy of aid and comes under the Committee’s wider, ‘umbrella inquiry’ into the Philosophy and culture of aid.

Broad-ranging questions about foreign aid have been raised during previous Committee evidence sessions. Various witnesses said the structures of today’s aid sector perpetuated colonial power dynamics, for example, while a representative of an East Africa-based aid agency said some aid made countries dependent on donors. An academic said the motivations for giving aid included altruism, addressing inequality, guilt, security and influence.

International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion MP said:

“We know that UK aid works. It helps girls get an education they would otherwise be denied, and cures painful but easily treatable blinding eye diseases like trachoma.

“But just because our aid is doing good it doesn’t mean it can’t do better.  

“Our privileged position as citizens of a rich country - and our history as a colonial power - makes us honour-bound to ask ourselves some hard questions, rather than just replicating our existing approach.”

The Committee is inviting written evidence from interested parties on a very wide range of questions included in the inquiry’s terms of reference (please see below). The deadline for submitting written evidence is 12 noon on Friday 17 September 2021.

Everyone is invited to share their views, especially under-represented groups. The Committee emphasises that submissions do not need to address all the terms of reference. The Committee also intends to also invite oral (in-person) evidence from some witnesses, including representatives of the aid sector, in Autumn/Winter 2021. Finally, the Committee expects to question a relevant government Minister.

Terms of reference

We welcome submissions that address one, some or all of the following terms of reference:

Fundamentals of aid

  • What do you think international aid should be for?
  • Is international aid effective at reducing poverty?
  • How should the rules and norms of international aid be set?
  • Who decides what success looks like and how do we measure it?
  • Should aid be finite and, if so, what should be the trigger to ending it?
  • Should aid be conditional, and what should those conditions be?
  • Is it helpful to distinguish between humanitarian aid and long-term development spending?
  • What are the benefits and motivations for donors and for recipient countries?
  • What are the risks and drawbacks for donors and recipient countries?

Donor countries

  • Should the UK have an aid budget? Why is this?
  • What should be included in the UK’s international development strategy and what does the economic growth model set out in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy mean for the development strategy?
  • Should all donors work towards the collective aims set out in the Sustainable Development Goals or should they have flexibility to pursue their own priorities and development strategies outlined by recipient countries?
  • Is there a ‘gold standard’ that donors should aspire to and are there examples of best practice among donor countries?
  • How is the UK Government held accountable to the UK taxpayer and the countries and communities where the programmes it funds are delivered?

International relations

  • What impact does aid spending have on international power dynamics?
  • How does international aid interplay with other sources of income such as international trade, remittances, domestic tax bases and philanthropy?
  • What is the role of different development actors such as International financial institutions, multilateral organisations, large International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), small INGOs and national NGOs?
  • What are attitudes towards aid spending in donor and recipient countries?
  • How does the UK’s aid spending affect how the UK is seen by other countries?

Guidance on how to submit your contribution can be found here.

Further information

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