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Government's DFID decision reduces impact of UK aid

The announcement diminishes the UK's global role, and could make vulnerable children even worse off.

The decision to merge the Department for International Development with the Foreign Office is flawed. It's bad for taxpayers, bad for the UK's national interest and bad for children living in poverty in some of the toughest places in the world.

One has to ask why on earth a decision like this would be taken and rushed out during the worst humanitarian situation the world has seen for 100 years.

(Sign our petition to urge the Prime Minister to rethink the merger)

The Department for International Development (DFID) has been a world leader in its field.

It has spent more wisely than other government departments that dispense aid. It has been more transparent about where the money was going. It has provided taxpayers with the best value for money. Crucially, it is one of the best-placed organisations on the face of the earth for dealing with the current global health crisis.

DFID has brilliantly served the national interest not just by enhancing the UK's reputation and standing, but by projecting values that are in the DNA of the public - values such as fairness, concern for others and generosity.

Above all, it has an unrivalled track record in lifting families out of extreme poverty and championing the cause of the children who represent our best hopes for the future. It has provided the most vulnerable children with vital support in health and education.

I've seen with my own eyes what aid means to girls who would otherwise be out of school in South Sudan; to mothers able to get their children treated for life-threatening infectious diseases; and to children in Somalia kept out of hunger by safety nets.

This would be a bad move at any time.

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse hard-won gains in child and maternal health, education, and poverty, it is irresponsible. It will weaken the UK's ability to provide for the poorest children in the world when they are in the greatest need of our support and solidarity.

DFID's independence has ensured that its aid spending was focused on fighting poverty and inequality, while aid administered by the Foreign Office has been widely criticised as less effective, less transparent and less good value for money. There is now a danger that narrow views of national self-interest will trump the explicitly humanitarian concerns at the heart of DFID's remit.

The government must move immediately to reduce the damage of this merger by protecting the focus and quality of aid that will now be spent through the Foreign Office. It must adhere to the internationally agreed standards for aid spending and retain the legal safeguards and scrutiny provided by the International Development Committee and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. To ensure that humanitarian considerations are heard at the highest level of government, a cabinet minister for international development must be retained.

The prime minister's announcement diminishes the UK's global role, and will reduce the impact of its aid. We can only lessen the damage of this move if we hold on to the high standards that DFID set.

There will be two early tests of the government's ability to achieve this.

One is its commitment to 12 years of education for every girl. This has never been more important than now, when more than a billion children are out of school and some girls may not be able to return after the pandemic.

The other is a promise to play a leading role in reducing child mortality. This challenge is increasingly daunting. We are already seeing signs that more children are dying because the spread of COVID-19 has disrupted vaccinations and routine health checks.

Save the Children will do everything in its power to make sure the worst implications of this move are avoided - and the best hopes of the British public secured.

This opinion piece also appeared on the Sky News website


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