The government’s decision to merge the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office is an “act of political vandalism” that “puts politics above the needs of the poorest people”, aid charities have said.
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, announced today that the departments would merge in September to create a new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
He said the merger was the opportunity for the UK to have a greater influence on the world stage.
Aid spending will remain at 0.7 per cent of gross national income and the Foreign Secretary would be “empowered to make decisions on aid spending in line with the UK’s priorities overseas”, a statement from 10 Downing Street said.
The move comes just a week after MPs on the House of Commons International Development Committee said DfID should remain as a standalone ministry and take stronger oversight of UK development spending.
In December, more than 100 charities called on the government to retain DfID, warning that it would damage the UK’s commitment to humanitarian aid and dilute work on tackling problems in the developing world.
Aid charities roundly criticised the decision today.
Patrick Watt, director of policy, public affairs and campaigns at Christian Aid, said: “Today’s announcement is an act of political vandalism.
“Stripping the Department for International Development of its independence and folding it into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office threatens a double whammy to people in poverty, and to our standing in the world.
"The timing couldn’t be worse for people living in poverty, when – for the first time in a generation – Covid-19 is driving a dramatic increase in extreme poverty.
“Far from being a symbol of global Britain, this move risks making Britain more parochial and weakening its credibility in the rest of the world.”
Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said the move was “scarcely believable” at a time when decades of progress were under threat from the coronavirus pandemic.
“With half a billion people at risk of being pushed into poverty, the UK should be stepping up to protect lives, but is instead choosing to step back,” he said.
“This decision puts politics above the needs of the poorest people and will mean more people around the world will die unnecessarily from hunger and disease.
“The Foreign Office may be excellent at diplomacy, but it has a patchy record of aid delivery and is not as transparent as DfID. To be a truly ‘global Britain’, we need to do more to live up to our values, not turn our backs on them.”
Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children UK, said the move was a “flawed decision that flies in the face of commitments made in the government’s manifesto”.
He said the move would weaken the UK’s ability to provide support for the world’s poorest children at a time when they needed the UK’s support and solidarity.
DfID’s independence has ensured that its aid spending is focused on fighting poverty and inequality, wheras aid administered by the Foreign Office has been widely criticised as less effective, less transparent and less value for money,” he said. “There is now a real danger that narrow views of national self-interest will trump the explicitly humanitarian concerns at the heart of DfID’s remit.”
Danny Harvey, executive director of Concern Worldwide UK, said the decision could have “grave consequences” for millions of people living in extreme poverty.
“Merging DfID with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sends a worrying signal that the eradication of poverty is no longer the primary aim of UK aid,” he said.
“By fusing aid with the national interest, we risk leaving the most vulnerable behind and undermining some of the great progress that has been made.
Stephanie Draper, chief executive of the NGO umbrella body Bond, said the announcement could not come at a worse time.
“Keeping an independent DfID is the best way to ensure aid is spent helping those most in need, delivers impact for the British taxpayer and remains untied to our political interests,” she said.
“Yet today, without any process or consultation, and against the recommendations of both independent aid scrutiny bodies and the UK’s development and humanitarian sector, the government has decided to put our aid budget in the hands of those with little expertise in global health systems, humanitarian response, and disease prevention and eradication.
“Make no mistake, this decision will do nothing but hurt the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”