Sightsavers’ submission to the IDC’s inquiry on the Philosophy and Culture of Aid

March 2021

About Sightsavers

  1. Sightsavers is an international development organisation which works with partners to eliminate avoidable blindness and promote equality of opportunity for people with disabilities in over thirty developing countries. Our programmes also include working to ensure quality inclusive education, strengthen health systems and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
  2. We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Terms of Reference for the International Development Committee’s inquiry on the Philosophy and Culture of Aid.


  1. For a number of years, the UK has played a key global leadership role in international development, including through championing Agenda 2030 and meeting its commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA. This inquiry comes at a critical time when questions remain around the direction of the UK’s aid and development policy, particularly following the merger of the FCO and DFID, the recent cuts to the aid budget and the publication of the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. This need is amplified by a shifting external environment where, amongst other issues, we are seeing increasing inequalities; the impact of climate change; and a need to respond to the long-term impacts of COVID-19. In this context, it is critical that ODA remain focused on poverty eradication as required by law and focuses on reaching those who are at risk of being left behind.


  1. We welcome the recognition of the importance of poverty reduction, girls’ education, the SDGs, and strengthening health systems in the Integrated Review. However, the overall narrative of the review raises concerns about the extent to which the desire for a ‘Global Britain’ will include a focus on development policy, and a concerning move away from aid being focused where it is most needed. It is critical that the UK’s development spend promotes long-term sustainable change for the most marginalised people. We welcome the announcement that a new Development Strategy will be created, it is critical that this strategy demonstrates how UK aid will be focused on reducing poverty and reaching the most marginalised. The strategy should be developed through extensive consultation with civil society and other development actors.


  1. Suggested questions for the Committee to consider:

We also recommend that the Committee focus on generating evidence and recommendations to feed into the new Development Strategy.

Key suggested areas of focus for the inquiry

2030 Agenda

  1. The UK government, alongside 192 others, made a commitment to development that leaves no one behind with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its Sustainable Development Goals, is the globally recognised framework for people, planet, and prosperity, which recognise the interdependencies and complexity of sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides the only legitimate and globally articulated framework to tackle the many social, environmental, and economic challenges the world faces. The UN has articulated clearly that the SDGs should provide the blueprint for recovery from the Covid-19 -pandemic, and they provide the development mandate for the UN. The agenda emphasises principles which should be critical to the culture and philosophy of aid.


  1. The 2030 Agenda is applicable in all countries and makes it clear that it is the primary responsibility of national governments to deliver sustainable development, as well as highlighting the important role that aid and development play.
  2. We know that for successful implementation of the SDGs and for long-lasting and effective change, governments all over the world, international and non-governmental organisations, the private sector, and civil society will need to join together.


  1. Suggested questions for the Committee to consider:

Leave no one behind and disability inclusion

  1. The principle of leaving no one behind is central to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and should be a key objective of all effective development.


  1. For Sightsavers, the inclusion of people with disabilites is a particular concern. People with disabilities make up 15% of the world’s population[1] and are often amongst the poorest and most marginalised people in any community. There is also an increasing gap between people with disabilites and their peers without disabilites[2]. However, the rationale for disabiltiy inclusive development also goes beyond this, as development that is disability inclusive is also likely to be more effective development for all people[3]. For example, adopting inclusive teaching methodologies are more likely to meet the varied needs of all children and infrastructure built using Universal Design Principles[4] will be more inclusive and accessible to the whole community, not just people with disabilities.


  1. People with disabilities often experience multiple forms of discrimination based on a number of factors – and how they intersect[5]. Factors including gender, age, ethnicity and impairment, and the contexts in which people live, can shape their identity and the forms of discrimination they experience. For example, women and girls with disabilities experience discrimination based on both their gender and their disability[6]. In order to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s central principle of leaving no one behind – and the UK’s own ambition to end extreme poverty – the UK Government should apply an intersectional approach in all ODA. By systematically considering how a range of factors intersect to shape marginalisation, including age, disability, gender, location, and minority status – amongst others – the UK will be able to better understand who is being left behind and who must access development assistance, and develop more inclusive, and therefore more effective strategies, for ensuring development progress.


  1. The UK Government, predominantly through DFID, had been recognised as a global champion of disability inclusive development[7] and made significant progress on disability inclusion since the International Development Committee’s 2014 inquiry on Disability and Development. Important steps have included: the introduction of the Disability Framework in 2014; clear commitment to disability in the Bilateral Development Review; inclusion of disability in the Single Departmental Plan, the hosting of the Global Disability Summit in July 2018 and the publication of DFID’s first Strategy for Disability Inclusion Development in December 2018.


  1. The FCDO should continue this global leadership on disability inclusion and further strengthen the UK’s standing in this important area. Engaging with people with disabilities and mainstreaming disability inclusion across departments and programmes will be key to creating systemic change.


  1. Often the impact of projects working to promote disabiltiy rights are hard to measure as outcomes can be less tangible or achieved over a longer time. Due to this, there has sometimes been a perceived conflict between Value for Money and inclusion. This is because Value for Money is sometimes incorrectly equated with the best impact as the one that reaches the most people for the lowest cost. This negatively impacts on those who are most marginalised, including people with disabilities who due to exclusion may be harder and more expensive to reach[8]. It is essential that projects with less tangible outcomes are still seen as valuable and critical for leaving no one behind.


  1. Suggested questions for the committee to consider:

Transparency and accountability

  1. Transparency and accountability should be central to the delivery of aid. As the committee has rightly highlighted, there are concerns around the transparency and accountability of decisions made on the merging of the FCO and DFID and around the cuts to aid. DFID was a leader in terms of transparency of aid spending, whilst the FCO has often lagged behind. For example, DFID was a leader on publishing the extent to which aid spending was disabiltiy inclusive through the OECD DAC disability marker and the FCO had not reported this data.
  2. Suggested questions for the Committee to consider:

Partnerships and local ownership

  1. As Agenda 2030 highlights partnerships, between civil society and government and between other development actors are critical. This should place emphasis on promoting the voice and inclusion of the local communities that aid is looking to support. This can be done in a multiple of ways including working with local groups, like organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs), and by hiring local people. This approach strengthens and embeds services and projects within local communities.


  1. Engaging effectively with OPDs in the development, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects is essential if they are to be effective and inclusive. People with disabilities, and their representative organisations, should be consulted and included in all decisions which affect them. OPDs should play a critical and central role in development, but due to significant levels of discrimination they can lack the capacity to engage fully, and so ODA can play a critical role in supporting strengthened capacity and engagement.


  1. As the committee has recognised, power imbalances exist within the development sector. While these have multiple and complex causes and solutions, one way of starting to address this is ensuring that development projects hire from and are driven by local communities, and that staff represent the diversity of a community.


  1. Suggested questions for the Committee to consider:

Implications of and recovery from Covid-19

  1. The world is still experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic which has forced even more people into poverty, caused children to miss out on education and caused a rise in violence against women and girls.


  1. It is a time where more development cooperation is needed not less, this is particularly true for people with disabilities. The World Health Organisation and other UN agencies are reporting that people with disabilities are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19[9]. People with disabilities are also more likely to experience poverty because of the pandemic. The livelihoods of people with disabilities are likely to be severely impacted in the short and long term. Many people with disabilities work in the informal sector in developing countries, are paid lower wages and have less secure incomes, so may be particularly vulnerable to short- and long-term economic shocks[10].


  1. It is estimated that 50% of children with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries were out of school before the pandemic.[11] There is a serious risk that, as children with disabilities are more likely to drop out of school than their peers, many will not return to full time education when schools re-open. Many schools also provide food programmes, social support, personal assistance, and health care.


  1. Crises such as Covid-19 affect women and men differently. Gender norms and inequities mean that women often have less decision-making power, unequal access to health care and are less involved in responses[12]. For women and girls these inequities are often amplified. Women and girls with disabilities experience higher rates of violence than their non-disabled peers[13]. Given during crises there is often an increase in gender-based violence[14], there is a significant risk that girls and women with disabilities are currently experiencing high rates of violence.


  1. All development actors must learn the lessons from this pandemic, take this opportunity to build back better, and work to end all forms of discrimination and ensure no one is left behind. The pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for the prioritisation of SDG implementation in order to rebuild stronger, safer, and more resilient health and education systems that can meet the needs of all people.


  1. The UK government needs to work with governments across the world, along with civil society, to ensure the response and recovery to COVID-19 is an opportunity to rebuild fairer, more inclusive societies. Given the timing of the inquiry, the Committee could play a role in ensuring that the philosophy and culture of aid is considered in the recovery from COVID-19.


  1. Suggested questions for the Committee to consider:

For further information about this submission or any aspect of Sightsavers’ work, please contact Lauren West, Parliamentary Adviser, at



[1] World Health Organisation and the World Bank (2011) World Report on Disability

[2] World Bank (2017) Disability Gaps in educational attainment and literacy; Groce and Kett (2013), The Disability and Development Gap.

[3] Bond (2016) Leaving no one behind: The value for money of disability-inclusive development

[4] Universal Design

[5] UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2017) Addressing the impact of multiple discrimination on persons with disabilities, and promoting their participation and multi-stakeholder partnerships for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in line with the Convention

[6] Mrs Maria Leonor BELEZA (2003) Discrimination against women with disabilities

[7] The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (2018) DFID’s approach to disability in development: A rapid review

[8] Bond (2016) Leaving no one behind: The value for money of disability-inclusive development

[9] World Health Organisation (2020) Disability considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak

[10] UN The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (2020) Ensuring disability rights and inclusion in the response to Covid-19

[11] The International Committee on Financing Global Education Opportunity (2016) The Learning Generation: Investing in education for a changing world

[12] United Nations Population Fund (2020) COVID-19: A Gender Lens

[13] Emma Pearce (2020) Disability Considerations in GBV Programming during the COVID-19 Pandemic

[14] UNICEF (2020) COVID-19 response: Considerations for Children and Adults with Disabilities