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Summer reading – food for thought on aid and development

As cabinet ministers finally get back to London for the now traditional ‘take out the trash day‘ that ends the Parliamentary year, minds in Westminster and Whitehall are turning to the break from political turmoil that they hope recess will afford.

It’s a chance to ponder the policy ‘big picture’, rather than day-to-day politics, particularly with a spending review on the horizon. So we’ve taken the opportunity to compile some thinking on the key issues in UK aid and development policy to inspire you over the summer break.

Today’s world

Our world today can feel challenging and gloomy. The news is often dominated by stories about devastating wars (with at least 37 civilians killed every day in Syria alone since mid-2017), Brexit struggles and natural catastrophes (read here about the complex food crisis in Somalia). Today, more children than ever globally – 357 million – are living in areas affected by conflict (as covered in our report on the war on children).

But we also live in a world where people care deeply about what happens to our fellow human beings, and where our collective action makes a difference. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s research on public opinion gives the hopeful message that over a third of British people are concerned about levels of global poverty (here’s all you need to know on public perceptions on aid and development). Another recent poll conducted by YouGov shows that 77% of Brits still support the charity sector and the good work it does, despite the recent scandals in the sector (check out the Love Charity Research poll here). Thanks to British generosity and UK aid investments that are focused on improving the lives of the poorest, we have witnessed ordinary people doing the extraordinary – as shown by these impressive stories in the video here. And our collective efforts to change the world make a difference. For instance, between 2015 and 2016, global aid to education grew by 13% in real terms to US$ 13.4 billion (read the Global Education Monitoring Report’s policy paper for more nuance and how to turn this into better education outcomes). Political action has also spared 25 million girls from being married as children – find out more about UNICEF’s research on child marriage trends.

So while it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges and ongoing political turmoil, positively, there is potential for change: a better world is in our power to create (as this great article on a post-Brexit future shows), and there’s a public desire to do exactly that.

The post-Brexit future

There will come a day, hopefully after March 2019, where the British exit from the EU will not take up all the capacity we have available to shape politics. We should start planning now for a broader, longer term positive future scenario. As DFID’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft emphasised recently, the UK is a development superpower and should maintain a global leadership position on aid and development post Brexit (and check out my blog on post-Brexit development priorities). The planning for that should be broader than exiting the EU, build on the UK’s strengths in foreign affairs, and influence DFID’s and other government departments’ future strategies. From a Save the Children perspective, there are three key questions to ponder over during the summer to shape our future in a positive way:

First, how to make the international SDG Leave No One Behind pledge a key driver in development? The UK has committed to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals for everyone, including those hardest to reach, and has been a proponent of the Leave No One Behind commitment on the international stage (see Save the Children’s briefing on how to realise the LNOB pledge). Our recent research, however, shows that the most deprived and marginalised children will still be left behind in 2030 in fundamental areas such as mortality, malnutrition, child marriage, birth registration and primary education (read up on it here). We’ll need a sharpened focus to accelerate progress for the furthest-behind groups of children (check out Save the Children’s database on inequalities and find out where inequalities in countries are highest). And we’ll need to put the right finance in place to ensure the most deprived and marginalised children have access to quality health systems, education, nutrition and protection from violence (here are our recommendations on financing for development).

Second, how can DFID best use its comparative advantage and build on its track record on development? DFID is one of the most impactful aid donors in the world, and leveraged stronger global action on the SDGs, gender equality, better health systems in the fight against Ebola and action to tackle recent food crises, to name just a few (here are some DFID success stories and reasons why it should remain an independent aid department). It is this work that the UK makes the most difference in, particularly when focused on the poorest and most marginalised people and on support for the social sectors. A future development strategy needs to find ways to keep this strength.

Third, how can the wider government work together, and leverage the powerful ecosystem we have in the UK, to play the best possible role in ending global poverty and tackling inequalities? International nongovernmental organisations like Save the Children, along with UK universities and think tanks should be at the ready to play their part.

Money: Spending review

Whether we realise a progressive vision of the future will also come down to where the money goes. Discussions on the UK spending review, which will establish Britain’s plans on public spending for 2020/21 to 2024/25, have started. Ensuring the UK can remain a leader in global development will depend on keeping spending levels up to meet our commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on aid. It will also depend on protecting the high impact that UK aid has on improving the lives of the most deprived and marginalised people. Key questions to think about in this context link the vision from above to the finances:

First, how to translate the Leave No One Behind pledge and poverty focus as a key principle or all of UK aid? The spending review needs to implement a set of criteria that government departments have to fulfil should they wish to access funds from the aid budget. These should include a focus on poverty reduction and tackling inequalities as well as good aid spending standards like transparency criteria and effectiveness principles (see Publish What You Fund’s 2018 Aid Transparency Index findings and this joint NGO press release on this year’s results on DFID and FCO aid transparency).

Second, how to best keep aid focused on DFID’s leadership areas such as the social sectors and those hardest to reach? Thinking should include protecting aid dedicated to strengthening health and education systems, reducing gender inequalities, and keeping up a strong focus on children in fragile and conflict affected contexts (read up here on Save the Children’s recommendations on ensuring the highest impact for all of UK aid; recommendations on aid governance structures, and here for our evidence and response to the IDC inquiry on cross-government aid spending).

Third, how to use the entire British development system in the best way to ensure aid is transformative? There are strong links between increased tax income and better spending on social sectors in countries (read this new research making links between increased domestic resources and better spending by USAID). If aid is focused on building systems and strengthening tax capacity it can play a truly transformative role to enable countries to stand on their own two feet in the long term (Development Initiatives have just released some thoughts on how to improve aid for domestic resource mobilisation).

Hopefully this food for thought will inspire you over the summer, to come back from the break with renewed energy and drive to change challenges into opportunities to build a progressive future for UK development aid and foreign policy.

Summer reading list:

Blog on how to prevent future food crises and build resilience in Somalia

Report: War on Children – ending violence against children in conflict

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Aid Attitude Tracker

You Gov Love Charity Research poll

Ordinary people doing the extraordinary video

Global Education Monitoring Report’s policy paper on latest trends on aid for education

UNICEF’s research on child marriage trends

A better world is in our power to create article

Blog on development priorities post Brexit

Briefing on how to realise the LNOB pledge

New research – Still left Behind

Save the Children’s database on inequalities

Blog with recommendations on financing for development

Blog post with five reasons on why merging DFID and FCO is a terrible idea

Publish What You Fund’s 2018 Aid Transparency Index

NGO press release on this year’s results on DFID and FCO aid transparency

Save the Children’s Next Generation Aid report

Blog post on aid governance structures and DFID oversight

Our response to the IDC inquiry on cross-government aid spending

USAID research on links between increased domestic resources and better social spending

Development Initiatives Policy Paper on how to improve aid for domestic resource mobilisation

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