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A new mission for children’s futures: transformative UK aid

While party members come together at their respective conferences to debate Britain’s political direction, citizens across the world are taking to the streets to call for action on climate change and global leaders are gathering to decide on the course of joint action for a better world at the United Nations General Assembly.

We’re at a crucial turning point that will define children’s lives for generations. The Sustainable Development Goals promised to bring about a world free of extreme poverty by 2030, where inequalities are reduced and where everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential within the planet’s boundaries. But as we enter the ‘decade of delivery’, progress is worryingly off track. On primary education, for example, progress has stalled for the 10th year in a row. Policy action and financing to reverse these trends has been wholly inadequate. If the world is to keep its promise, a total shift in priorities will be needed in the next ten years.

The UK has a crucial part to play in transforming global development and children’s futures. Today we’re calling on decision-makers in the UK to provide Transformative Aid. By focusing aid on four key principles, the UK will help bring about a shift towards a more prosperous, peaceful and equal world.

How the UK government can transform children’s futures globally

UK aid needs to be transformative in four ways:

1 Generational transformation

UK aid can help drive generational change by focusing on poverty reduction and investing in human capital and children’s development. But the latest performance assessment of UK aid is deeply worrying. Bilateral aid to education is at its lowest low in years: 7.4% of the bilateral aid budget. Humanitarian aid dropped by 11% in the last year – and from number one to number three priority. And a broader aid focus on foreign policy objectives – such as global research, the fight against plastic pollution, and investing in British markets – often comes at the cost of providing social services for children.

Our projections show that these trends are likely to deteriorate further with a shift in UK aid delivery – away from the Department for International Development (DFID) and towards other government departments that prioritise broader foreign policy areas with aid. British leaders need to urgently reverse these trends and increase the proportion of UK aid spent on health, education, nutrition and protection. DFID should remain responsible for spending at least three-quarters of the UK’s aid budget, with increasing focus on social sectors. Upcoming replenishment moments – Gavi on health, the Tokyo 2020 Nutrition Summit and the World Bank’s IDA 19, with its emphasis on strengthening human capital – are a first test to show the UK is serious about giving children a chance to survive and thrive.

2 Accountable transformation

The UK has been at the forefront of good practice in transparency in international development. However, recently, with a proliferation of aid providers and reversals of the UK’s progress in some areas, UK aid effectiveness has dropped. Other government departments struggle to keep up with DFID’s high bar on providing transparent and high-value-for-money aid. And while formally still providing untied aid, UK performance on development effectiveness has dropped. For instance, on democratic ownership, a recent assessment finds that, from 2016–18, UK aid directed through countries’ own systems dropped from 65% to 26%. It is high-time to reverse this by strengthening delivery modalities – and focusing on meeting good transparency standards for all UK aid providers, improving democratic ownership and providing opportunities for the meaningful participation of children, beneficiaries and civil society to ensure aid priorities reflect local needs.

3 Progressive transformation

The UK contributed to the agreement leading up to the pledge to Leave No One Behind as part of Agenda 2030. But recent aid figures show a different reality: UK aid to the ‘least developed’ and ‘low-income’ countries has decreased by 11.7%. Other government departments and UK aid providers other than DFID channelled 20.4% of UK aid in 2018, mainly to strengthen infrastructure in lower- and upper-middle-income-countries, while investing less in strengthening social sectors in the poorest or conflict-affected and fragile countries. UK aid has a crucial role to play in supporting those who are furthest behind, including helping those countries with the least ability or capacity to finance development – especially least developed countries and conflict‑affected and fragile states – by allocating greater shares of UK aid to those countries with the greatest need.

4 Sustainable transformation

Through the Addis Tax Initiative, the UK has committed to double its aid to strengthen countries’ tax mobilisation and financial systems. Domestic public resources are, in the long term, the most sustainable resource for development. For example, the Education Commission estimates that 97% of the additional resources required to finance education SDGs will have to come from tax. Yet, UK aid performance on strengthening tax capacity is wildly off track and has not increased much since the commitment was made. UK decision-makers need to reverse this trend by upping aid to strengthen countries’ public resources to finance development at a minimum, and delivering on an ambitious successor to the Addis Tax Initiative in the longer term. Investing in sustainable transformation also means supporting pro-poor, environmentally sustainable growth that benefits generations to come.

Why do we need transformative aid?

The values, skills and capabilities that we engender in today’s generation of children will dictate the development pathways of nations and of the global community as a whole. When children are denied the rights that enable them to flourish because of poverty, their gender, or their ethnicity, society as a whole will carry the cost. And if we fail to address the great challenges of climate change and ecological destruction, it is our children and subsequent generations who will pay the price.

With a transformative approach to aid, the UK can maximise the impact it makes for the most deprived and marginalised children – and in a way that helps the poorest countries to develop sustainably. It is a vital contribution to playing our part in keeping the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals.



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