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UKAID: Can we really provide more for less?

In the spirit of communal cut-backs,  HM Treasury has recently created a website known as the Spending Challenge which asks you — the public — to suggest how they can provide ‘more for less’ across all government spending.

We’ve asked all our supporters to explain why development aid is important for them and to provide suggestions on how you think it should be spent. Please enter your ideas

This is what we’ve added:

“The UK government is a leader in the international community on overseas development. It is on course to meet its long standing commitment to give 0.7% of national income in ODA (overseas development aid); in 2005 it was instrumental in securing the G8’s collective pledge to increase aid to Africa by $25 billion by 2010. Meanwhile a recent review of the OECD-DAC claimed that DFID has achieved “national and international recognition for its professionalism and ability to deliver its aid programme”.

Given the legacy of the economic crisis and the necessity to cut the deficit it is understandable that the scale and efficacy of government spending is being evaluated and we applaud the intentions of the CSR. We believe, however, that cuts in international aid are unlikely to enable ‘more for less’.

At present, the amount spent on international development is less than one quarter of defence expenditure, and less than seven per cent of health spending. Yet we know that even modest amounts of aid can yield dramatic returns. For example the Onchocerciasis (River Blindness) Control Program  was funded by donor contributions of close to $560 million over its 27-year lifespan. According to its records, it protected 18 million children from contracting the disease, and salvaged 25 million hectares of arable land for resettlement and re-cultivation.

As such, emphasis should be placed on improving how aid money is spent, and making this information clearly available to the British tax payer.

Three objectives should be central to the UK Government’s new approach:

1) Poverty reduction remains front and centre of international development spending, in accordance with the International Development Act .There should be no relaxation of how the UK Government counts its ODA, even if these changes are permissible within OECD-DAC rules. The public want to know exactly how their money contributes to poverty reduction, and support for aid is contingent on it reaching the right target. Studies of aid allocation overwhelmingly conclude that “if aid allocations were based more closely on poverty criteria, the impact of aid on poverty reduction would be…very significantly greater” (Riddell, 2007).

2) Equitable distribution of international development spending, which focuses upon increasing cash spending in low-income countries (LICs), so that development spending really reaches the poorest. Since 2002 DFID has steadily increased the proportion of bilateral country spend directed towards LICs, from 72% in 2002 to 90% in 2008/9.

DFID’s focus upon LICs is impressive given that internationally 63 of the world’s poorest countries received less than half of total ODA (Riddell, 2007). But DFID’s strong focus does not necessarily apply to the remainder of non-DFID UK ODA. Delivering aid to the poorest should be central to all UK ODA, even more so in the face of potential streamlining.

3) Improved evaluation and monitoring of aid, with accountability not only to the UK tax payer but to the citizens living in the recipient country. Importantly, DFID should uphold Andrew Mitchell’s promise that 5% of all bilateral funds will be earmarked as to be invested in local Monitoring & Evaluation capacity development (as highlighted at the Oxfam 21st century aid launch).”

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