Leonard Cheshire, Response to the International Development Committee’s Inquiry into the philosophy and culture of aid (March 2021)



  1. Introduction

1.1.           Leonard Cheshire (LC) is a leading inclusive development agency, with over 70 years’ experience in supporting persons with disabilities across the globe. We deliver projects through local partners, whilst also contributing to mainstream programmes with our technical expertise on disability and inclusion. We have four regional offices in India, Kenya, Thailand, and Zambia and hold the Secretariat for the Leonard Cheshire Global Alliance which is one of the world’s largest networks wholly dedicated to supporting people with disabilities. Leonard Cheshire is one of three technical partners for disability for the World Bank, and works closely with the International Labour Organization, as well as collaborating with UNESCO, UNICEF, the UN Girls’ Education Initiative, and other global actors.


1.2.           Our response to this consultation is shaped by our experience as recipients of UK aid as well as our engagement with the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), as a leading international development agency supporting persons with disabilities. LC receives direct funding from UK aid for programmes including our ‘Inclusion to Innovation’ (i2i) programme, our Girl’s Education Challenge Transition Fund to improve the inclusion of girls with disabilities in education in Kenya, and our “Inclusion 100” project to improve the economic inclusion of people with disabilities in India. We receive additional funding as a partner in UK aid funded Consortia programmes on women’s sexual health, girls’ education and life changing assistive technology. LC is also an active member of the Bond Disability and Development Group which plays a key role in ensuring UK aid reaches persons with disabilities. Through our work, we collect data on disability and engage with local and national policy makers so that they put in place interventions that support the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). In this response we aim to address the first four questions of the terms of reference for this inquiry.


  1. Recommendations

2.1.           Philosophy of Aid: The role of UK aid should be used first and foremost to uphold human rights, including disability rights, and reach the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. It should also help to ensure equitable and sustainable development for persons with disabilities, in line with agreed global commitments and conventions including the UNCRPD, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has historically led on the implementation of human rights treaties, and it is critical that the future of aid is guided by a right-based approach. The rights of people with disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) must therefore be at the heart of everything the new FCDO does.

2.2.           Aid Allocation: The UK Government has been a leader in delivering Official Development Assistance (ODA) that places a high priority on alleviating poverty. The allocation of UK aid must be firmly rooted in agreed OECD-DAC (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee) definitions of international development assistance and should be used to ensure no-one is left behind.

2.3.           Aid Transparency: The decision to retain both the International Development Committee (IDC) and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) is hugely important for ensuring the accountability and impact of the UK’s AID overseas.   As the government department with lead responsibility for the coordination and delivery of UK aid, the FCDO should show leadership in demonstrating how UK aid is adhering to globally agreed principles of aid effectiveness, transparency, and accountability. All other departments disbursing ODA must also adhere to these principles.

2.4.           Disability Inclusion: The UK has been a leader in global disability inclusion, and it is critical that disability becomes a cross-cutting issue across Whitehall. FCDO’s disability inclusion strategy and the minimum standards for disability inclusion, should be extended to all departments with responsibility for UK aid. The OECD-DAC disability and inclusion marker should be used by all government departments disbursing UK aid.

2.5.           Inclusive Aid & COVID-19 Recovery: The global COVID-19 pandemic has worsened existing inequalities, with people with disabilities being among those hardest hit. The effects of this crisis threaten to turn back the clock on years of progress towards disability inclusion and the full implementation of the UNCRPD. The UK Government should therefore provide clarity on its future inclusive aid commitments, and how these will mitigate the worst impacts of COVID-19 and ensure people with disabilities are not left behind, including in critical areas such as education,  employment, social protection and future climate and pandemic preparedness.  


  1. Philosophy of Aid

3.1.           It is critical that UK aid retains, first and foremost, the ambition to alleviate poverty, reach the most marginalized, and achieve sustainable development. UK ODA must also adhere to the OECD-DAC’s agreed definition of ODA[1]. This means that UK development assistance should not be used for military aid or the promotion of the UK’s security interests, nor should it be used for transactions that have primarily commercial objectives.

3.2.           UK Aid has played an essential role in disability inclusion around the world, and the UK government has been a global champion in tackling poverty. Disability-inclusive strategies can have a life-changing impact in supporting people with disabilities into education, employment, and society. Some of Leonard Cheshire’s most impactful global projects would not be possible without the support of UK Aid. Our Girls’ Education Challenge inclusive education project has supported over 2,000 girls to attend primary school in Kenya, while supporting systemic change. Our Innovation to Inclusion (i2i) project aims to improve employment opportunities for 8,000 people with disabilities in Kenya and Bangladesh, while creating innovative digital pathways to scale up employment opportunities. In South Sudan, we are working with a consortium to transform the lives of children with disabilities in a national programme, helping to ensure that their education continues beyond primary school.

3.3.           For persons with disabilities, increasing aid investment in the labour market could have profound benefits for alleviating poverty. There are an estimated 80 million people living with disabilities in Africa.[2] Analysis carried out by Leonard Cheshire’s Disability Data Portal project reveals that the majority of countries show higher unemployment rates for persons with disabilities compared to those without disabilities.[3] Research conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that the cost of this exclusion from the labour market represents a loss of GDP of between 3 and 7 per cent.[4]

3.4.           African countries now have the most youthful populations in the world, with over 70% aged under 30.[5] This represents a huge potential pool of talent for business. However, young people make up 60% of the unemployed in Africa[6] and young people with disabilities are routinely excluded from economic opportunities.[7] Targeting youth with disabilities represents an opportunity for businesses to harness the benefits of the growing youth demographic while promoting disability inclusion. As one young person with disabilities who is part of Leonard Cheshire youth network has put it: “Persons with disabilities want the opportunity to use their talents and skills.” (William, Zambia, 2030 and Counting interviewee).

3.5.           Leonard Cheshire has worked closely with Accenture Foundation to empower people with disabilities to access employment and live independent lives. Our current programme in India is funded by FCDO and builds on this private sector partnership. Within this project, we have worked with Accenture to create a JobAbility[8] employment platform. Powered by artificial intelligence, this platform has career advice services to match people with jobs. This platform works by matching someone's skills, abilities, and career interests to jobs. Because of this project, we have helped build the skills of more than 80,000 people with disabilities in India. Many employers have also created inclusive workplaces.

3.6.           These examples demonstrate how UK aid funding delivers results that can be mutually beneficial for both the beneficiaries of UK aid and for UK investments through, for example, supporting the growth of local economies and bringing those who would otherwise have been left out of the labour market into productive and meaningful employment.

3.7.           UK Aid funding has also made a significant difference to inclusive education at a national, regional, and local level. Last year Leonard Cheshire’s programmes alone supported over 5,000 children with disabilities in Africa to get an education.

3.8.           The UK has renewed its commitment to girls’ education so that girls around the globe can receive 12 years of quality education, and the FCDO will soon publish a new Girls Education Action Plan. In many countries, girls with disabilities are one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups. Moving forward, girls with disabilities must be at the heart of these plans.

3.9.           The UK’s contribution to foreign aid plays a significant role in the inclusion of persons with disabilities in overseas development programmes. Key to the UK’s philosophy of aid should be disability inclusivity, with a primary aim to alleviate poverty and reach those at greatest risk of being left behind. The UK Government’s philosophy on aid should be underpinned by an ambition to achieve equitable and sustainable development, in line with global commitments such as the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities, and to continue to take a leading role in improving inclusion of girls with disabilities, especially in education. 


4. Aid Allocation


4.1.           In 2015 the UK enshrined in law its commitment to allocate 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to ODA and, in 2019, was one of just five OECD-DAC members to meet this globally agreed target[9]. DFID (Department for International Development) was also a key proponent of aid effectiveness principles developed through the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, 2008 Accra Agenda for Action and the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation agreed in 2011. However, the UK Government has announced its intention in 2020 to temporarily drop its legally binding commitment to spend 0.7% GNI on aid.

4.2.           Cutting aid from 0.5 to 0.7 percent of the economy results in a cut of approximately 30 percent to the UK’s aid budget. This is occurring at a time when other donor governments are stepping up their aid commitments in recognition of the impact of COVID-19 and the poorest countries’ inability to borrow as developed nations have. At least four G7 members plan to increase the absolute amount of aid in 2021 (Germany, France, Italy, Japan)[10]. In 2021, the UK is expected to have the third-lowest debt among G7 countries, relative to the size of its economy[11], yet, each of the three countries with larger debt than the UK (France, Italy, and Japan) have stated their intention to increase their ODA/GNI ratio in 2021.

4.3.           The world is currently facing one the worst humanitarian crises in a generation.  The year 2021 sees the UK host the G7 summit and COP26, and the 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Now is a time that requires increased, not decreased, aid allocation from the UK Government in its efforts to lead the way in alleviating global poverty and achieving sustainable development.

4.4.           The UK outlined in the Integrated Review (published on March 16th, 2021) its intention to restore the 0.7% target. It is urgent the UK Government restores it as soon as possible. The UK’s contribution to foreign aid plays a key role in the inclusion of persons with disabilities in international development programmes. By restoring aid spending, the UK can provide more equitable and sustainable development, in line with global commitments such as the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities. The UK can also continue to take a leading role in improving inclusion of girls with disabilities, especially in education. 

5. Aid Transparency


5.1.           In 2018 DFID (now FCDO) set out a clear approach for ensuring transparency in its aid programmes and in the same year was ranked as the third most transparent development actor. The decision to retain both the International Development Committee (IDC) and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) is hugely important for ensuring the accountability and impact of the UK’s AID overseas.  As the government department with lead responsibility for the coordination and delivery of UK aid, FCDO should show leadership in demonstrating how UK aid is adhering to globally agreed principles of aid effectiveness, transparency, and accountability. All other departments disbursing ODA must also adhere to these principles.

5.2.           The UK Government’s Development Tracker, initiated by DFID and now extended to all government departments delivering UK aid, is a useful source of information for top-line data on UK ODA spend. All government departments appear to be contributing relevant information to this resource which is openly available. FCDO must retain the Development Tracker as a critical tool in increasing transparency.

5.3.           Where other government departments are required to take responsibility for delivering the UK’s ODA, they must demonstrate how they will adhere to globally agreed principles of aid effectiveness, transparency, and accountability. Departments should also demonstrate as a minimum how they will support the implementation of FCDO’s disability inclusion strategy. In addition, departments must work collaboratively with FCDO to put in place plans for transparent, accountable, and inclusive development programmes, ensuring that vulnerable populations are not left behind.

5.4.           It is crucial that any decision-making process around UK aid and FCDO’s funding takes place through an open and transparent process which emphasises meaningful consultation with stakeholder groups, including persons with disabilities and Disabled People’s Organisations, and which includes robust accountability mechanisms in which those stakeholders can engage.

5.5.           FCDO and other funders must also collect data on the impact of COVID-19 that is disability inclusive and use best practice methodologies to ensure comparable, accurate, quality disability data collection. Policy makers, governments, and funders, including FCDO, must work closely with people with disabilities and their communities to understand the issues and risk of harm and effectively promote awareness and appropriate safeguarding responses.

5.6.           The Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office is working with government colleagues, disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, charities, and businesses to develop and deliver a National Strategy for Disabled People, to be published in Spring 2021[12]. FCDO should work with the Cabinet Office and other departments, to ensure its UK aid work on disability and its domestic disability polices are aligned and are both in line with the UNCRPD.


  1. Inclusive Aid & COVID-19 Recovery

6.1.           The global pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of persons with disabilities, whom are often already one of the most disadvantaged and isolated groups in society. Many people with disabilities are poor, out-of-school, or in vulnerable employment, and this has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for those with existing health conditions.


6.2.           Given the additional barriers faced by people with disabilities in relation to securing and retaining employment, it is also likely that they will be amongst the hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic. People with disabilities are especially vulnerable because many work in vulnerable employment (short-term, part-time, informal), and may be first to go when businesses lay off; and, secondly, many work as self-employed and will struggle, as business slows down or indeed halts altogether due to government restrictions.


6.3.           There is also a risk that diversity and inclusion will take a backseat, as businesses focus on survival, and set aside other priorities or commitments from ‘before’ COVID-19. This could result in limiting employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the immediate future as well as in the long run and reducing or removing targeted support to existing employees. It is therefore critical that people with disabilities are not left behind in new job markets opportunities and future employment policies.


6.4.           FCDO and other funders must ensure that short-term and long-term policies which support children to continue to learn are disability inclusive. Many global, national, and local initiatives supporting distance learning platforms during school closures were not accessible to children with disabilities, and children with disabilities must not be left behind when schools reopen. There is a particular risk that girls with disabilities will be unlikely to go back to school post COVID-19, and this risk needs to be fully considered in the FCDO’s girl’s education programming and financing.


6.5.           FCDO communication on this matter needs to address the underlying and ongoing barriers persons with disabilities face as well as the additional barriers created by COVID-19, and how this pandemic is disproportionately affecting persons with disabilities and programmes aiming to lift them out of poverty.


6.6.           In 2021, the FCDO is now responsible for 81% of the aid budget, more than the combined total for DFID and FCO in 2019[13]. The FCDO must make an important contribution to improving global effectiveness of ODA, ensuring that UK aid decisions are made with the aim of leaving no-one behind, and lead the way among international development agencies supporting disability inclusion in both operations and funding decisions.


6.7.           UK ODA spending post COVID-19 must support the implementation of employment schemes that create jobs and promote employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and support the most marginalized children, including girls with disabilities, to go back to school and transition from education to employment.

For further information, please contact: Marcus Loney-Evans, Policy Advisor - Data and Inclusion, Leonard Cheshire (marcus.loney-evans@leonardcheshire.org).







[1] http://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-finance-standards/official-development-assistance.htm, accessed 06.05.2020

[2]‘Disability in Africa’, African Studies Centre Leiden; accessed at: https://www.ascleiden.nl/content/webdossiers/disability-africa on 06.05.2020

[3] ‘Disability Data Review: A collation and analysis of disability data from 40 countries’; Leonard Cheshire, 2018

[4] ‘Disability Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2017, International Labour Organization, 2015

[5] Barford. A & Coombe. R (2019); ‘Getting By: young people’s working lives’, University of Cambridge

[6] Ighobor. K (2017); ‘Africa’s jobless youth cast a shadow over economic growth’, Africa Renewal: Special Edition on Youth.

[7] Groce, N.E. (2004); ‘Adolescents and Youth with Disabilities: Issues and Challenges’, Asia Pacific Disability Rehabilitation Journal, Vol,15: No. 2.

[8] http://www.jobability.org/ ; accessed on 18.03.2021

[9] http://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-finance-data/ODA-2019-detailed-summary.pdf; accessed on 07.05.2020

[10] BOND: https://www.bond.org.uk/news/2021/03/from-slashing-07-to-yemen-cuts-whats-happening-with-uk-aid; accessed on 17.03.2021

[11] IMF: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/weo-database/2020/October; accessed on 18.03.2021

[12] GOV.UK: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/citizen-space-survey-national-strategy-for-disabled-people; Accessed 17.03.2021

[13] BOND: https://www.bond.org.uk/news/2021/03/from-slashing-07-to-yemen-cuts-whats-happening-with-uk-aid; accessed 18.03.2021