International Development Committee inquiry

The philosophy and culture of aid


Written evidence submitted by CBM UK

March 2021



CBM (Christian Blind Mission) works with partners across the world to bring change at an individual level, challenge systemic discrimination and support the voice and power of people with disabilities and mental health conditions as agents of change, in development and humanitarian settings.


  1. CBM UK welcomes the International Development Committee’s inquiry into the philosophy and culture of aid. This inquiry comes at a critical time for international development and humanitarian aid, as pre-existing development challenges are exacerbated by both climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. As we face these challenges, re-examining the philosophy and culture of UK aid can articulate a set of values and principles which have inclusion and accessibility at their heart to ensure that no-one is left behind.




  1. CBM UK has over 100 years experience working with people with disabilities and mental health conditions in low and middle income countries (LMICs). In this evidence, we share the principles that underpin our work alongside people with disabilities. These principles can be applied to improve aid delivery across the board.


  1. It is estimated that 15% of the world’s population has a disability – one billion people – with 80% of people with disabilities living in LMICs[1]. People with disabilities face discrimination and structural inequalities in many areas of life, which often leads to reduced opportunities,      marginalisation and exclusion. Those with disabilities in LMICs are at most risk of being left behind.


  1. Impairments may result from a number of factors, but a person is disabled when      society is designed predominantly by and for people without such impairments. This exclusion is recognised as discrimination and a violation of a person’s inherent dignity and worth in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD)[2].


  1. Such exclusion has far-reaching effects on the lives of people with disabilities, including on their educational opportunities, employment, health and access to development programmes. Emergency situations exacerbate the inequity and marginalisation they face, particularly disabled women, children and older people.


  1. People with disabilities are not a homogenous group, but have other, intersecting identities, based on gender, age, race, religious belief, caste, sexuality, geographic location and socio-economic status etc. These other identities might afford areas of privilege or, conversely, exposure to further areas of discrimination and risk; and the intersectional experience is greater than simply the sum of parts.


Rationale for foreign aid


  1. The scope of this inquiry will include examining why the UK gives foreign aid. CBM UK believes that it is important for the UK Government to adhere to the current OECD definition and rules on official development assistance[3], that it should be administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective. We urge the Government to maintain a focus on those who are often most left behind in LMICs and in humanitarian settings, such as people with disabilities – who are often at greater risk of poverty due to discrimination and exclusion. The Centre for Global Development’s report on UK Aid also suggests in order to provide effective aid, the UK should target more of its spend at the poorest countries.[4]


  1. We cannot fail to recognise how interdependent our world is and how closely national interest is aligned to international cooperation. Therefore, a comprehensive and rounded understanding of the UK’s national interest in the fullest sense should be applied when assessing how UK aid is best spent. In addition, research shows that approaching the reduction of poverty in poorer countries as a moral cause is a highly effective driver of public support[5].


How aid delivery can be improved: increasing accountability and inclusion


  1. One of the challenges currently faced by the aid sector is a lack of accountability to those who are in receipt of UK aid and their representative organisations, for example Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs). People with disabilities know what they need, and what they can offer, and can provide expert advice on inclusive development interventions. Applying the philosophy of ‘nothing about us, without us’ helps ensure that aid spending is appropriately designed, well-targeted and effective.


  1. In practice, this means ensuring that national and local DPOs and networks have the capacity to engage meaningfully. Participation needs to be organised through regular liaison and engagement with representative organisations, so that people with disabilities are part of all consultation and coordination mechanisms, can assume leadership roles during humanitarian interventions and have a voice in determining policy.


  1. In our experience at country level, consultation has not always included a full diversity of people with disabilities – those who have psychosocial, intellectual or multisensory disabilities are typically most at risk of being left out; and notice given has often been too short to enable meaningful participation.


  1. Organisations working specifically with people with disabilities have a longer tradition of providing aid to people with disabilities and engaging with DPOs, but they cannot on their own cover all the needs of people with disabilities. All humanitarian partners need to adopt a rights-based approach to their work, informed by the human rights principles and standards codified in the UN CRPD. Strengthening collaboration between mainstream INGOs and disability-specific agencies, neither of whom can directly speak on behalf of disabled people, along with DPOs, w     ould bring a mutual learning exchange and contribute to more effective and inclusive aid delivery.


  1. A commitment to transparency and mutual accountability are important in improving the culture and delivery of UK aid. This means that FCDO should adhere to the same standards that it expects of its suppliers, for example following due process and ensuring consultation has taken place when making changes to contracted programmes. Currently, NGOs and other suppliers face difficulties in making adaptations to programmes, yet find that FCDO can make changes to those programmes, which is imposed on implementers without adequate (and sometimes any) consultation.


How aid delivery can be improved: a twin track approach to disability inclusion


  1. When planning development and humanitarian programmes, a twin track approach to disability inclusion is necessary. This provides immediate, specific support to ensure people with disabilities are empowered, while ensuring that disability is mainstreamed     from the very start of all humanitarian action. This approach recognises that even where programmes have been designed with accessibility in mind, individual people with disabilities may need additional and specific support to access mainstream programmes     . Initiatives that have supported progress in gender mainstreaming since the 1990s can provide a source of inspiration for work towards disability inclusion.


  1. Disability mainstreaming needs to be accompanied by disability specific interventions. The essential goods and services these provide, such as assistive devices, and provision of braille or sign language, may not otherwise be      addressed through mainstream programmes.



How aid delivery can be improved: build inclusion into the project cycle


  1. The most effective way to achieve the inclusion of disabled people within development interventions is to take this into account at all stages of the project cycle, including needs assessment, design, planning and evaluation of humanitarian responses. To achieve this, budgets need to incorporate necessary adaptations and accessibility measures.


  1. Disability inclusion does not need to be overly costly if planned during the early stages of programme development. However, often additional funding is vital to assist humanitarian actors and communities affected by conflicts, natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies to coordinate, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate essential actions for disability-inclusion across all sectors. This should be considered a standard programme cost, in line with the humanitarian principles and Article 11 of the CRPD[6] if interventions are to reach the last mile.


How aid delivery can be improved: build on existing momentum


  1. To date, the UK government has made significant strides to further the inclusion of people with disabilities in LMICs. Parliament has also been effective in its scrutiny of this work and recommendations for progress, in particular through the International Development Committee. However, it is essential that the Government maintains – and builds upon – this momentum, if there is to be real and lasting change for people with disabilities. For more progress to continue to be made, it is crucial that poverty reduction remains core to FCDO’s remit[7] and that this is articulated in the department’s documented priorities.


  1. Although the strategy is not perfect, CBM UK would like to see the Government maintain its commitment to DfID’s Disability Inclusion Strategy 2018-2023, despite the recent DFID / FCO merger. This strategy is a useful framework, in particular the focus on social protection and systems strengthening, inclusion of intersectional areas such as gender, the increased focus on mental health and the specific focus on humanitarian action. The delivery plan provides timescales, thus ensuring commitment beyond paper; and the minimum standards signal aspiration and greater mainstreaming of disability inclusion. It is particularly important that people with disabilities remain at the centre of this strategy, observing the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’.


  1. It is important that UK government departments work in a collaborative way to ensure that UK aid has the greatest chance of being used for poverty alleviation and economic development – including for people with disabilities – before other priorities. This brings the opportunity for government departments to work together better towards a peaceful, healthy and stable world. For example, effective diplomatic interventions and trade policies can help create an environment that reduces the need for aid interventions. Building knowledge and expertise on disability inclusion, including intersectional identities such as gender, within all government departments that deliver Official Development Assistance would benefit efforts to mainstream disability throughout UK aid delivery and advocacy work.


How aid delivery can be improved: localisation and turning theory into practice


  1. To improve effective aid delivery, we support increasing the localisation of aid, so that more power and resources are held within local communities. In 2016, donors and large aid organisations committed to sending 25% of humanitarian aid funding “as directly as possible” to local and national organisations by 2020, a promise known as the Grand Bargain. However, during this time, funding to local and national groups actually declined[8].


  1. However, we observe that grants to large multilateral bodies and to the CDC group have been preserved and ring-fenced in recent cuts to the aid budget[9]. This puts more pressure on funding for programmes to meet basic needs and empower communities which are managed by both INGOs and local CSOs, even though these programmes often offer better value for money than large-scale consultancy contracts.


  1. International humanitarian bodies and disability organisations have developed policies and tools on inclusion for use in the humanitarian sector[10], but significant investment is needed in the promotion and dissemination of these tools to ensure that they are used on the ground. To improve the delivery of aid, there is a considerable need to develop knowledge and understanding on disability inclusion amongst staff in humanitarian organisations, in communities and among government workers, and to ensure the local and national organisations are resourced effectively. Organisations like CBM UK can be drawn on to build this capacity in disability inclusion.


For further information contact Kirsty Smith, CEO

01223 484700


CBM UK, Munro House, 20 Mercers Row, Cambridge, CB5 8HY

Contact Rachel Aston, Policy Manager at


[1] World report on disability. WHO and World Bank, 2011

[2] UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities

[3] OECD

[4] Caitlin McKee, Ian Mitchell, Arthur Baker. 2018. “UK Aid Quality Indicators” CGD Policy Paper.

Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.

[5] Aid Attitudes Tracker.



[8] Development Initiatives, Global Humanitarian Assistance Report

[9] BOND, UK Aid Cuts: What’s being prioritised and what we still need to know, July 2020

[10] For example CBM’s practical guide to inclusive humanitarian response Home | CBM HHoT