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We Need to Defend the DfID Budget and Make Sure It Is Used for International Development

12/01/2016 17:31 | Updated 12 January 2016

Prime Minister Questions last week saw Conservative MP Philip Davies argue (sadly echoing the comments of an MP from our own benches over the Christmas break) that money should be taken from the international development budget to pay for the much needed extra resources to deal with the consequences of the recent flooding. This is a false choice - however, it is not the only threat to Britain's international development budget.

Since 2002 successive British governments have committed to spending 0.7% of national output on development and aid. The budget for the Department for International Development (DfID) should be precisely used to fund development. But there are growing concerns that this Tory government is using that budget for a different 'security' agenda, not solely for international development.

Yet this is only one example of a wider trend. The driving force behind this regressive agenda is the UK Treasury making cuts to other departments whilst being formally committed to the 0.7%. In November it published a strategy document setting out a new framework for the aid budget. In this, Chancellor George Osborne and International Development Secretary Justine Greening state, "We want to meet our promises to the world's poor and also put international development at the heart of our national security and foreign policy."

Without any hint of irony it lists a series of past achievements, on provision of healthcare, education, alleviating poverty and so on, and declares that the basis on which these successes have been made will be fundamentally altered, putting in doubt the principle that the distribution of aid must be primarily based on the interests of those who need. The document mentions security thirty two times but fails to mention inequality.

Global Justice Now have argued that "Never since DfID was first created as an independent department in 1997 has a government strategy so clearly linked aid with the UK's defence and foreign policy objectives."

The effect is twofold. The aims of international development are to be explicitly linked to the Government's 'security-based' foreign policy. Whilst, of course, international development funding can undoubtedly help in peace-making efforts, if more spending goes on areas where the UK militarily involved, there is a risk of aid being used to support UK military activities.
And at the same time, the method for reaching development aims are increasingly driven by the Tories' neo-liberal ideological agenda. So, for example, DfID has channelled millions of pounds into the harnessing non-state actors for better health for the poor (Hanshep) scheme, which promotes private sector investment in the health sectors of poor countries.

There will be a new cross-government approach to the DfID budget with "more aid will be administrated by other government departments", meaning other departments could increasingly be accessing its funds to soften the blow of spending cuts, despite the 0.7% of Gross National Income formally being maintained.

Then there is the "Joint Security Fund" where DfID will be funding the priorities of the Foreign Office, MI5 and GCHQ. A new £1.3billion Prosperity Fund will be overseen by the Foreign Office, and will meet its objectives.

A genuine international development budget would prioritise sustainable economic development and help to tackle the crises that prevent it, such as HIV/AIDs and other diseases, climate change and the disastrous and continuing refugee crisis. It would benefit the rest of the world and thereby also boost British prosperity. But the current Tory government is subordinating these aims to an ideologically-driven agenda. We must stand firmly behind the achievement of the 0.7% commitment and for its correct use to improve the lives of millions around the world.

Diane Abbott is the shadow international development secretary, and Labour MP for Hackney Central

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