On 16 June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the unexpected merger of The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) into a new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
This merger could be disastrous for those struggling to survive poverty, climate change, and the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than building a “global Britain,” it could see aid being spent on the UK’s trade, defence, and commercial interests. This would be putting politics before progress, undoing the UK’s place as a leader on the international stage and turning our back on those who need help most.
As we tackle COVID-19, we need effective UK aid more than ever to be focused on fighting back against diseases and ending extreme poverty. Without a dedicated department and secretary of state leading development work, we risk backtracking on the incredible progress we’ve made.
Here are five reasons why DFID is one of the world’s top aid agencies and why we should all be proud of what it has achieved.
1. DFID helps make the world a better place
Since 1990 extreme poverty has been reduced by 60%, thanks partly to official development assistance from agencies like DFID.
In fact, in just three years, DFID has supported 11 million children to get a decent education, protected 37 million children from infectious diseases, and reached 27 million people with humanitarian assistance.
But there’s much more work to be done: More than 735 million people are still living on less than $1.90 a day. We need to keep driving support for a world free from poverty and disease or we risk going back on all we’ve achieved thus far. DFID has made incredible things happen through aid from the British people. We can all be proud of this impact, and must ensure it continues.
2. DFID spending is effective
It’s important the money we spend is spent well, and DFID makes every penny count. Out of all of the government departments responsible for spending aid money, it is by far the most poverty-focused, effective and transparent.
In fact, 80% of DFID spending is of good quality, according to the Independent Commission on Aid Impact. DFID ministers are respected around the world because DFID is such an effective development agency.
This effectiveness is at risk with a merger. By comparison, the Commission found that 80% of FCO aid spending is not of good quality. DFID is one of the world’s most transparent donors, while the FCO is one of the least.
Furthermore, the Institute for Government estimates that mergers can cost as much as £175 million, create disruption, and reduce productivity. They conclude that “rushed departmental changes often leave little legacy beyond enormous disruption and a large bill for the taxpayer.”
3. DFID sets global standards in aid
Fifty years ago, the United Nations set a target for the world’s wealthiest nations to spend 0.7% of their national budgets on official development assistance. The UK is the only member of the G7 to meet this target. As our Better Aid Scorecards showed, the UK sets the standard in international aid.
Every person in the UK can be proud that we are one of very few countries in the world helping to achieve a world free from extreme poverty. We’re showing global leadership in the fight to end extreme poverty. Bill Gates said the UK’s commitment was “visible proof of the UK’s goodwill and humanity” and “sets an example for other wealthy Western countries.”
4. DFID is uplifting other nations
UK aid is helping less developed countries to stand on their own two feet. One example is helping countries generate greater tax revenue collection, which helps governments support their own citizens. DFID has helped Rwanda manage its public finances and raise an additional £1.1 billion in tax revenue to further finance its own development.
DFID has the tools and expertise to implement these programs and support other nations. But we know from other countries that have dismantled their aid departments, there can be an exodus of senior-level aid expertise. The UK — and the world — cannot afford to risk that.
5. DFID helps position the UK as a global leader
Our contribution to international development is a key part of our global offer. The strength and success of British aid gives us clout and earns respect on the global stage.
A British Council survey of young people across the G20 found that Britain’s contribution to development was the primary driver of trust in the UK Government. And in the 2019 Portland Soft Power Index — which measures countries’ global influence — the UK placed second, thanks partly to its global diplomatic presence.
However, merging DFID into the FCO is “unlikely to be positive” for the UK’s ranking, the Portland Soft Power Index notes, as it could “send a signal that the UK cares less about global development than it once did.”
Merging agencies and having only one cabinet minister focused on international affairs would reduce our global reach just when we need it most. And it would risk the massive progress the world has made to tackle poverty and inequality.