The Conservative Government is working to integrate the Department for International Development (DFID) into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Boris Johnson claims that this will allow for “reform” of the way Britain gives aid to ensure that tax is used effectively, and to unite the governmental departments that deal with foreign policy.
The Department for International Development has a variety of responsibilities, including funding important organisations such as the World Bank and the Global Fund. These bodies provide vital supplies to research into diseases such as Malaria, HIV and TB. It also supports nations experiencing a crisis, and saving lives through the provision of essential supplies such as food, water and medicine.
However, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, and Tony Blair, amongst other notable politicians have stood against Johnson’s plans. They believe that this could undermine the international status of the UK within the International Development sector, as well as preventing International Development experts from having significant influence over the actions of DFID. This also means that the way the international development budget is used could move more towards benefitting the UK and creating politically favourable decisions, rather than doing what many would see as morally right, in terms of international poverty reduction and working towards progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
DFID has a huge global impact and uses just 0.7% of the UK’s GDP. This means that the amount spent changes based on financial challenges, so this year, due to the COVID-19 shutdown, DFID may spend less than it did in 2018-19. It would be fair to say that this is a high value for money department as it evidently benefits the world’s most vulnerable people. It also allows the UK to provide some support after its historical wrongdoings across the globe during the colonial period, and many other historical events such as the 1943 Bengal Famine that was arguably worsened by decisions made by the UK government at the time.
Hidden by the distracting nature of the current global pandemic, Johnson’s decision will impact millions of people. Due to the impacts of COVID-19, it is expected that over 500 million more people will find themselves living in poverty and potentially undoing decades of progress by the International Development Sector.
The decision to merge DFID with the FCO could not happen at a worse time. Turning the back of a nation on some of the most vulnerable people in the world when so many were struggling significantly, only to have their experience worsened by a global pandemic is horrifically irresponsible and negligent. Whilst millions of people find themselves struggling more than ever before, it cannot be left to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to take on the responsibilities of an additional department as well as his current duties.
Inflammatory headlines are keen to tell you that UK tax money is being “wasted” in “foreign countries”. Evidence disproves these claims. For almost a decade, the Aid Transparency Index has ranked DFID as “very good”, with it’s latest figures rank DFID as the 3rd most transparent, and one of the best performing aid departments globally. With this in mind, there seems to be very little justification for the merger when the department is already performing so well.
As an International Development student, I am passionate about keeping the department open. I trust development experts take the lead, as opposed to those who control the foreign office, with Boris Johnson and friends not being known for their tact when dealing with overseas matters.
The statistics do not lie. DFID is a well-performing department, far surpassing the spending efficiency of numerous other UK government departments. To deny the complexity of international development issues, and the significance of DFID in the attempts to meet the sustainable development goals and reduce poverty is ignorant. This merger could come with somewhat dire consequences for the international community, especially those in need of international aid and assistance.