The announcement that the Government plan to merge FCO and DFID has rightly been met with widespread concern from global aid organisations and poverty charities to former Prime Ministers. As a member of the International Development Committee, my position is no different. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, my fellow Committee members and, most importantly, the Committee staff, who are going through a turbulent time.
The merger will almost certainly end Britain’s ring-fenced £15 billion aid budget, not to mention the fact that the timing is incredibly poor, given that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, when such funding is essential to alleviating the impact on some of the vulnerable people in the world. That is before we even take into consideration the Whitehall redundancies that the merger makes inevitable, without any form of consultation, despite what the Prime Minister claims.
Most worryingly, it appears that the Government are using the current crisis to railroad through their long-held plans to scrap DFID. The proposed merger would be catastrophic on many levels, leading to the reversal of the progress made by successive Governments, in the more than two decades since it was first established in 1997, in everything from health and education to poverty.
Several former Prime Ministers who understand more than most the role that Britain plays on the world stage with its aid commitment have been critical of the Government’s decision. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have called this move a “mistake”, which will result in
“less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas.”
The charity sector is equally outraged by this decision. Appearing before the International Development Committee last month, Oxfam UK’s chief executive communicated his fears that with half a billion people at risk of being pushed into poverty as a result of covid-19, the move was unbelievable. Similar comments were expressed by Save the Children, Christian Aid and Concern Worldwide.
The Fairtrade Foundation has also hit out at the planned merger, with its chief executive labelling this move a “backward step” that reduces
“Britain’s aims and ambitions on the world stage.”
The Fairtrade Foundation is also concerned about the real intention of this merger, and it has stated that UK aid
“must remain focused on poverty reduction, not diverted for security interests or in return for favourable trade terms.”
Our aid not only helps save lives, but creates opportunities for people to improve their circumstances and life chances. It has lifted millions of people out of poverty, educated them and saved millions more. To cite one example of DFID’s importance, since 2015 the Department’s nutrition programme has reached more than 60 million women, under-fives and adolescent girls, who are among some of the poorest people when it comes to hunger and malnutrition.
I appreciate that time is running out, so I will finish on this point. It is vital that DFID be allowed to continue and that the scrutiny mechanisms that go alongside it, such as the International Development Committee, are kept in place.