UK Parliament committee wants aid spending target dropped

U.K. aid officials and advocates are quick to defend the country’s aid spending in light of a call for the government to abandon its commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on development assistance.

In a report released March 29, the economic affairs committee of the U.K. House of Lords urged the government to drop the commitment, which is part of the coalition deal between the Labour and Liberal Democrats parties. The two parties have agreed to craft legislation to make the target legally binding.

The economic affairs committee wants this plan scrapped. It would only make achievement of the target more important than efforts to improve the program’s effectiveness, the committee has argued. Such legislation also wrongly prioritizes spending over results and risks reducing the accountability, value for money and quality of the program, it added. Further, the committee said it could have a corrosive effect on the political systems of recipient countries.

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell welcomed the committee’s report, which largely commended the general direction of ongoing U.K. aid reforms. But Mitchell stressed that the “government makes no apologies for sticking to its commitments to the world’s poorest people.”

Aid supporters and nongovernmental organization officials were more direct in their criticism of the report.

“The committee is guilty of presenting a false choice between delivering high quality aid and increasing its quantity — the government can and should do both,” Oxfam GB head of policy Max Lawson said.

Lord Paddy Ashdown, president of UNICEF U.K., agreed. He said scrapping the 0.7 percent target would not make U.K. aid more effective and “would simply deny vital assistance” to those who need it most. One International’s Adrian Lovett also pointed out it is wrong to suggest aid effectiveness and value for money will suffer because of efforts to meet the spending target.

VSO Chief Executive Marg Mayne added that it’s important now more than ever for the United Kingdom to fulfill this commitment, considering how other donors are off track to meet the 0.7 percent target. The United Kingdom, she said, should send a strong message that “cutting support to the world’s poorest people is unacceptable.”

The U.K. government also found a supporter in U.S. philanthropist Bill Gates, who expressed concern over the committee’s report. Abandoning the 0.7 percent target would undermine the “incredible progress” that smart and well-targeted U.K. aid has achieved over the past years, the head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said.

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.