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LONDON, October 3, 2017 – The Department for International Development must be given a say on arms sales to countries engaged in conflict, such as Saudi Arabia, Save the Children argues today, in a critique of the UK government’s sometimes contradictory approaches to international aid and foreign policy. 

In a new report, Next Generation Aid, Save the Children says more than 20% of UK aid is spent by government departments other than the Department for International Development (DFID), and warns that policy incoherence across Whitehall risks undermining the impact of British aid efforts on the ground.

Britain is one of the largest international donors of aid to Yemen, but DFID’s humanitarian role is being undermined by other departments approving arms sales to countries that are killing Yemeni children, bombing schools and hospitals, and impeding aid access.

Save the Children has previously highlighted the role of the UK Government in fueling the devastating war in Yemen by approving £3.8 billion of arms licenses to Saudi Arabia, the leader of a multinational coalition in Yemen, since the conflict escalated in March 2015.

Since then more than 4,000 children have been killed or maimed by all sides in the conflict. The leading cause of child casualties continues to be airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition, according to the UN Human Rights Office.

Save the Children is calling for DFID to have mandatory representation – and a decision-making role – on the Export Control Joint Unit which approves all arms sales licenses. 

The unit currently includes representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

DFID’s programmes are consistently proven to be the most effective form of UK Aid spending, with their focus on alleviating poverty for the world’s poorest people. In doing so they adhere to the International Development Act, the legislation governing how UK Aid should be spent to effect the biggest change.

UK aid has already contributed to extraordinary progress in many areas, including child survival. Child deaths have halved in a generation. But UK Aid is increasingly being spent by government departments which are not obliged to adhere to the International Development Act, and often work in a less transparent or accountable way. Research shows that UK taxpayers are proud when UK Aid saves lives, but they want to know their money is making a difference.

Among the report’s recommendations for ‘good aid’, the charity argues that all UK aid spending, whether spent by DFID or any other department, should (1) come under the remit of the International Development Act; (2) be subject to an annual, independent transparency assessment; (3) be better coordinated through the agreement of a single cross-government plan for each country in which aid is spent; and (4) be overseen by a new Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by the Secretary of State for International Development.

Underpinning this vision for good aid is the unshakeable belief that UK aid should put children first. What happens to children today determines what happens to all of us tomorrow.

Save the Children’s CEO, Kevin Watkins, said:

“The UK is leading the world by providing aid to Yemen, but we are also providing weapons and support to countries involved in a conflict that is killing, maiming and starving children. The UK should stand tall in the world and export hope to Yemen’s children, not fear.

“The British public are proud of aid when it saves and improves the lives of the world’s poorest people. But we need UK Aid to be consistently effective. Which is why Save the Children, with its almost 100 years’ experience in humanitarian work, has produced a set of recommendations to transform aid for the next generation.

“The Government’s disjointed approach to aid must end. More effective and coherent aid will improve value for money and deliver more for children – and what happens to children today determines what happens to all of us tomorrow.”


For more information or to arrange interviews with spokespeople in London or Yemen, please contact r.villar@savethechildren.org.uk or +442070126841

Notes to Editors:

Arms export license figures are calculated using this tracker from Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

According to the UN Human Rights Office, in the week from 17 to 24 August, 58 civilians were killed, including 42 by the Saudi-led Coalition. Unknown armed men killed 12 civilians and the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis killed four civilians. That week’s total is more than the number of civilians killed in the whole of June, when 52 were killed, and in July, which saw 57 civilian deaths.

According to UNICEF’s latest Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) figures, between 26 March 2015 and 30 June 2017, at least 1,676 children were killed and 2,760 others maimed. These verified cases are just considered to be the “tip of the iceberg”.

The OHCHR says between March 2015 and 30 August, at least 5,144 civilians have been documented as killed and more than 8,749 injured. Children accounted for at least 1,184 of those who were killed and 1,541 of those injured. Coalition airstrikes continued to be the leading cause of child casualties as well as overall civilian casualties. Some 3, 233 of the civilians killed were reportedly killed by Coalition forces.

Sign Save the Children’s Petition to Boris Johnson here:https://action.savethechildren.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=7&ea.campaign.id=60631