UK aid bill up for vote on Monday

The Palace of Westminster, the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Will the legislation to enshrine 0.7 percent aid spending into law pass in the U.K.? Photo by: Darren Harmon / CC BY-NC-SA

For years, aid groups in the United Kingdom have been lobbying the government to fulfill its promise to legislate spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on development assistance, a target Britain finally reached in 2013.

The long wait may soon be over.

On Monday, the private member’s bill is expected to pass its third and final reading in the House of Lords. Sources monitoring the bill’s progress in Parliament told Devex the bill “is very likely to pass,” adding that “obviously something could derail it but that seems less likely now.”

This optimistic stance comes in stark contrast from the disappointment aid groups expressed in 2013, when the bill failed to make it in Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech, where priority legislations for the year are announced.

Advocates have contended that the aid pledge has never moved beyond the present coalition government’s pre-election promise. This is mainly because while both the Labour Party and the coalition government support the bill, right-wing conservatives are against it. Several right-wingers have even called the bill “ludicrous” and “idiotic.”

Any amendments made to the bill need to be considered by both Houses before it can be subject for royal assent and become law. So any last-minute amendments on Monday could cause delays, but there seems to be little doubt now that it would become law before the general elections in May.

Once in legislation, the United Kingdom will set another milestone in international development: It will be the first donor country to meet and legislate the 0.7 percent aid target. Belgium was the first to enshrine the target into law in 2013, but the government’s ODA that year was well off the mark, amounting to only 1.73 million euros ($1.9 million) or 0.45 percent of its GNI.

But whether the passage of the bill will set a precedent for other donors to follow through is an entirely different matter. Donors such as the United States haven’t even committed to an aid target, while the development assistance of some countries that met the 0.7 percent goal at some point, such as the Netherlands, has been declining.

Further, some experts argue the 0.7 percent target is outdated and irrelevant when it comes to aid impact. More aid doesn’t always equate to better aid, an observation supported by recent evaluations of U.K. aid. In the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s assessment of the U.K. Department for International Development’s engagement in fragile states, it found weak links between the aid agency’s increased funding and the ability of the countries to move out of fragility.

Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, previously told Devex that “once the focus becomes how much is being spent, the impact comes a very distant second.”

Members of civil society however contend the two are not mutually exclusive.

“I don’t think that talking about impact and results is at all inconsistent with also calling for more and better aid,” a London-based source who spoke on condition of anonymity told Devex. “In fact the two should be interconnected and interdependent.”

What’s your take on the 0.7 percent aid target debate? Is it outdated and relevant as others argue or is it interconnected with calls for impact and results? Join the debate by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.