International Development Committee sub-inquiry: philosophy of aid

Concern Worldwide UK written submission



About Concern Worldwide


  1. Concern Worldwide is an international development and humanitarian organisation dedicated to the elimination of extreme poverty. We have been operating for more than 50 years and work with 28 million people across 24 countries, in some of the hardest to reach and most fragile places.


  1. We welcome this opportunity to feed into the IDC’s sub-inquiry into the Philosophy of aid, which has come amidst a rise in hunger and malnutrition, extreme poverty and climate related shocks, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.


  1. At the same time, the UK has slashed its aid budget by around 4 billion GBP, causing several of our programmes to be cut or highly scaled back. Essential service delivery to millions of the poorest people across the world has been adversely affected, and efforts to strengthen foundational systems that strengthen resilience and improve coping mechanisms have also been impacted. These further perpetuate vulnerability and thus contribute to further extreme poverty


  1. As the UK develops a new international development strategy, and with less than a decade to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, this is an appropriate time to shape the global international development landscape, especially focusing on the UK’s role within it.


Fundamentals of aid


What do you think aid should be for?


  1. International aid should be a contribution and commitment to the greater good, independent of political, economic or other state interests. Aid should be primarily focussed on reducing poverty and inequality, alleviating suffering and saving lives.


  1. In doing so, it should target those furthest behind first and help build the resilience of the most marginalised communities, who bear a disproportionate burden of hunger, extreme poverty and vulnerability to climate shocks.


Is international aid effective at reducing poverty?


  1. International aid has contributed to the downward trend in extreme poverty and hunger, seen over recent decades. Within Concern’s countries of operation, we have witnessed the difference that sustained support to the most vulnerable communities can make.


  1. For example, Somalia, a country affected by frequent droughts, floods and conflict, was cited as one of four countries on the brink of famine in early 2017.[1] However, as a result of rapid humanitarian response, with aid targeted at some of the worst affected areas, Somalia succeeded in preventing famine.


  1. Concern was one of the agencies focusing on ensuring a timely response.  Early Warning Early Action was a central part of the DFID-funded Building Resilient Communities in Somalia (BRCiS) programme. By systematically monitoring and identifying potential risks, the BRCiS programme was able to support the most vulnerable communities when rains began to falter in late 2016.
  2. By the time the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit indicated the possibility of famine, Concern’s BRCiS staff had already been responding to that possibility in half of its target communities for seven months.


  1. As a result, the villages in which BRCiS operated fared considerably better than might have been expected. While over 900,000 households were displaced across the country, none of the BRCiS villages experienced significant numbers of people leaving due to drought. In fact, even though BRCiS communities were originally targeted as the most vulnerable, most in fact became hosts to displaced people from nearby and previously “better off” villages.
  2. This is evidence of what can be achieved by early warning and adequate investment to facilitate early action, and how aid can be used effectively to reduce vulnerability. A key component of success was the flexibility of the programme, building in contingency funds with trust from DfID to do so, to enable rapid response and adaptation to the changing context.


  1. Yet significant funding gaps in international aid remain, hindering progress on reducing global poverty. Each year, the UN Humanitarian Response Plan is chronically underfunded. At the end of May, funding had reached only 18 per cent of requirements[2]. Meanwhile, less than half the world’s population are covered by some form of social protection. These combined leave large populations vulnerable to shocks and stresses caused by climate change, conflict or economic instability.


  1. Without a safety net, we know that people are more likely to resort to negative coping mechanisms when faced with shocks or crises. These actions include the distress sale of assets or children leaving school early in order to work, which can undermine their future income generating ability. A greater emphasis on resilience building, anticipatory action and responsive funding (as seen in the BRCiS programme) can ensure people get the support they need in order to avoid these negative cycles.


  1. Too often aid is not as responsive as it should be. The focus of donors on value for money and short-term results frameworks can result in communities not receiving the long-term, flexible support that is needed to achieve a sustained reduction in poverty.


  1. In certain contexts, especially fragile and conflict affected areas, results can be hard to guarantee. Yet these are the contexts where aid is most needed. Progress towards achieving the SDGs is falling behind in fragile states and by 2030, 80% of the extreme poor will live within fragile states. Too often, these areas receive funding in one year cycles, with unrealistic expectations of situations which do not stay static. A greater commitment to support fragile and conflict-affected contexts with longer term and flexible funding, taking a ‘no regrets’ approach, is necessary to ensure we truly leave no-one behind.


How should the rules and norms of international aid be set?


  1. All international aid actors should adhere to humanitarian principles and the existing international agreements in place which set guidelines for humanitarian action, such as the Good Humanitarian Donorship and EU Consensus on Humanitarian Aid. Aid actors should also adhere to the principle of ‘do no harm’ when considering any aid programme.


  1. However, as the rules and norms of international aid evolve, there must be much greater involvement of communities, governments, civil society and NGOs in the countries where aid is targeted. The UK should help reshape the international development approach, recognising other governments and local communities as equal and expert partners, and bringing in and promoting the voices of those who have been traditionally excluded from conversations.


Who decides what success looks like and how do we measure it?


  1. To ensure aid is effective and independent of state interests, it is important to maintain independent aid scrutiny bodies, such as the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), the International Development Committee and the Initiative for Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).


  1. However, there should be much greater involvement of programme participants in the objective setting, planning and review process for aid programmes. Currently, donors are more accountable to their own citizens for aid impact than to programme participants. This can lead to an over reliance on short-term, easy to measure deliverables at the expense of longer, harder to impact change. The two can go hand in hand, but without longer, less tangible change, the short-term impact is less sustainable.


Should aid be finite and, if so, what should be the trigger to ending it?


  1. Aid should be needs based. The point at which a country is able to set up the systems required to support its citizens to lead a healthy and productive life is when we can consider reducing or ending aid to a particular country, yet this must be on a case by case basis.


  1. However, there is a significant gap between the current level of need and global ODA funding. Therefore, it is not such a matter of ‘ending aid’ but targeting it at those furthest behind and ensuring aid programmes are focussed on poverty reduction, reducing inequality and building resilience.


Should aid be conditional, and what should those conditions be?


  1. The purpose of aid should be poverty reduction, tackling inequality and responding to humanitarian need. Other conditions should not be applied.


Is it helpful to distinguish between humanitarian aid and long-term development spending?


  1. In some contexts, such as sudden onset crises, it is necessary to deliver quick, short term humanitarian aid.


  1. However, in many cases the divide between development and humanitarian aid creates an unnecessary barrier and reduces the agility with which this aid can be used to respond to dynamic, complex, and often changing situations, particularly in extreme and fragile situations. The needs of the extreme poor, cannot be siloed as humanitarian and development. Hence, it is important that all aid, should firstly adhere to humanitarian principles and be based on need, but also focus on tackling the root causes of extreme poverty through long term investment in the underlying drivers and building resilience, whilst responding to unpredictable and sudden shocks as and when they occur.


  1. Aid programmes should have more flexibility built in, in order to shift activities and respond to changing needs in the community. This can include humanitarian programmes which pivot to building long term resilience to mitigate future shocks. It can also include development projects which have pre-agreed triggers to release humanitarian support when early signs of a coming crisis emerge.


What are the benefits and motivations for donors and for recipient countries?


  1. The prime motivation for donor countries should be to be a force for good in the world. However, aid can also benefit donor countries by increasing their soft power on the world stage, as well as reducing global risks such as regional conflict and future pandemics.


  1. Recipient countries can also use aid to build government capacities. An example of this would be Rwanda, which incorporates development programmes into government planning and holds aid agencies accountable.


What are the risks and drawbacks for donors and recipient countries?


  1. There are risks to recipient countries if aid is not implemented well. For example, if there is corruption or perceived corruption in the distribution of aid, this can create tensions between communities and undermine democracy. It is also important that aid is used to strengthen local systems and not create dependencies or market distortions, which can hinder long term development.


Should the UK have an aid budget? Why is this?

  1. Yes, it is the right thing to do for a country with economic wealth to allocate a portion of this to help alleviate poverty and inequality in other parts of the world. UK aid is particularly necessary given the crises of global hunger, climate change, and conflict are on a rise, amidst the ongoing pandemic.


  1. There is further moral obligation for a country such as the UK, which has become economically developed through a period of industrialisation and colonisation, which in turn has contributed to the economic, political and climatic instabilities that today impact disproportionately on the extreme poor.


  1. Lastly, the UK’s aid budget strengthens its standing on the UK in the international development landscape, contributing to greater soft power as a donor, whilst supporting the efforts of governments to tackle extreme poverty, improve infrastructure and governance.


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?


  1. The 2015 development strategy committed the UK to a focus on fragile contexts. With fragile states falling behind in progress towards the SDGs, this commitment should continue. Indeed, it is one of the unique value-adds of UK aid spend. The new International Development Strategy should recommit to a target of at least 50% of ODA going to fragile and conflict affected places. 


  1. It is important how, as well as where, money is spent. To ensure that UK aid continues to drive the greatest impact in progressing the SDGs, the UK must: 

i)            Strengthen its commitment to target aid towards those furthest behind - often in fragile and conflict-affected states.  The prioritisation of countries should not be based on UK national interests but rather on the level of need within a country to ensure poverty alleviation is impartial.  

ii)            Prioritise those sectors which have been shown to be most effective in reducing poverty and inequality, particularly: health and nutrition; education; and social protection.  

iii)            Invest in building long term resilience to climate change, the prevention of conflict and resolution of chronic crises by understanding and addressing their root causes and drivers. Support programming and initiatives that build social cohesion and help address underlying drivers of conflict.  

iv)            Ensure its funding models are multi-year and allow greater flexibility and innovation for necessary adaptations to the changeable contexts in which they are being delivered.   

v)            Accelerate a more anticipatory approach to predicting and responding to conflict and disaster. 

vi)            Enable context-specific, community-driven programmes. Ensuring that ODA-funded development programmes recognise, respect and build on local resources and assets.  


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?


  1. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. The SDGs provide a comprehensive, coherent framework for sustainable development policy dialogue and cooperation. The 2030 Agenda must remain the vision for what success in 2030 could look like. 



[2] UN OCHA (2021) Global Humanitarian Overview: May Update