A victory for aid scrutiny

A victory for aid scrutiny

By: Daniel Willis
Date: 17 December 2020
Campaigns: Aid

Plans to scrap parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC), a crucial aid scrutiny body that holds government accountable for development spending, have been shelved. This is an important victory for campaigners and is a vital step in our efforts not just to defend aid, but also to make it just.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House of Commons, had argued that parliamentary select committees should reflect the structure of government departments, and that the merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign Office earlier this year meant that the corresponding committees should also be merged.

However, after sustained pressure from civil society and MPs, Rees-Mogg has backed down and will not be bringing his proposals to the Commons. Thank you to all those who took action!

Protect the 0.7%

Although this victory will not affect government plans to cut the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI, it does show that we can still make the government listen to why development must be protected.

It now seems certain that the government will bring new legislation to the House of Commons next year to reduce the aid budget. This indicates that they may be looking to permamently reduce the budget to 0.5%, as there are already conditions in the existing legislation that allow for a temporary reduction. Using a global pandemic and economic crisis to cut development funding is completely cynical and opportunistic, but fortunately these plans are already seeing widespread opposition.

Some senior Conservative MPs have already criticised the proposed cuts, suggesting that they may rebel against the government when the vote comes. The Labour Party has been outspoken in its opposition to the cuts, and Liberal Democrat development spokesperson Layla Moran has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) opposing the cuts and the abolition of DfID. If you have received a reply from your MP which suggests they oppose the aid cuts, you may want to write back to them and ask them to sign this EDM.

The government is still in an incredibly strong position in parliament with a large majority. However, this U-turn on the IDC shows that they can change their minds with enough pressure. Last Saturday, the government also announced that it would stop using development funds to invest in fossil fuels – another demonstration that people power works. With your help and co-ordinated action next year, we can show them how unpopular their plans are and protect the 0.7%.

Don’t just defend aid – make it just

That being said, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that recent years have seen the increasing diversion of UK aid towards the private sector, unaccountable investment funds and private contractors. As we have highlighted in our research, the 0.7% has been used to fund unaffordable private hospitals, poor quality private schools and even repressive police forces. As our Director Nick Dearden wrote recently for New Internationalist, we can’t just defend aid – we also have to make it just.

Alongside campaigning against the aid cuts next year, we will be publishing new research on how UK aid has supported private healthcare in the global south, excluding patients and undermining public services in the process, as well as how its been used to expand the UK’s economic power internationally (a far cry from its mandate to contribute to poverty reduction). We will also be hosting a discussion early next year on how we can begin reimagining aid so that it is seen as just one of a series of measures to tackle global inequality and injustices, alongside debt cancellation, tax reform and wealth taxation. We also need to talk about the connections between “aid” and Empire, and begin conceiving of aid as a form of wealth redistribution and reparations for our colonial past (and climate debt).

For now, though, this government climbdown is a welcome win for civil society and gives us hope that more victories are yet to come in the New Year.

Photo: Houses of Parliament. Credit: Markus Baumgartner / Flickr.