Who is spending UK international development aid?

The question as to what qualifies as ‘international development’ spending (or, more pertinently, what should qualify) leads us to look at what the UK government counts in its statistics on overall aid spending. Those who do not work in the sector may be surprised to discover that all development spending is not channelled through DFID, but includes spending from departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and (perhaps most surprisingly) the Ministry of Defence (MoD). In 2011/12, for example, total aid spending (including administrative costs) by DFID was £7.69 billion. Official UK aid spending from departments other than DFID was £1.32 billion (DFID aid statistics, 2006/7 – 2010/11).

So what kinds of non-DFID spending are being included in the official figures. Much fits quite comfortably within what most would consider legitimate development objectives, such as the £54 million on debt-relief for developing countries in 2010. But ‘aid’ spending also includes support for bilateral peacekeeping operations (paid for from the FCO budget); contributions from the MoD to the Conflict Pool; spending on the Environmental Transformation Fund by the DECC, a fund designed to help countries adapt to climate change; gift aid for NGOs from private donations; and it also includes Scottish government bilateral aid programmes.

The statistics are supposed to only include spending where it clearly fits within ‘development’ criteria, and is in accord with international rules on accounting for overseas development assistance (oda). So, for example, DAC rules allow 6% of donor contributions to the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations to be counted as aid. The UK government also includes a proportion (but not all) funding for bilateral peacekeeping missions with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) civilian missions in its overall tally of development spending (DFID 2010).

DEFRA runs the Darwin Initiative, which seeks to help poor countries to meet international biodiversity commitments. Those elements which are considered to meet development objectives are included in the aid statistics (but not those which fall outside it). DEFRA also contributes to the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, a financial instrument to assist poorer countries to meet commitments to reducing ozone depleting substances. Again, DAC rules allow for this to be considered as oda.

The Conflict Pool, which brings together the FCO, DFID and the MoD, is more controversial, in large part due to the involvement of the Ministry of Defence. Its objective is to ‘reduce the number of people around the world whose lives are, or might be, affected by violent conflict’, and activities include security sector and rule of law reform programmes, peacekeeping and training of peacekeepers, efforts to achieve political settlements in conflicts, as well as working with other actors engaged in conflict resolution and prevention.

Conflict prevention and resolution are important interventions for both humanitarian and development reasons, and they are key DFID priorities. Moreover, not all money spent by the Conflict Pool is included in the UK aid statistics (probably around 55% is included). Nonetheless, in the 2009/10 financial year, around £20 million was used to support ‘stabilisation activities’ in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Whilst such activities (which include health, education, etc) have a ‘developmental’ benefit for the population, the militarised conflict in which these activities are taking place (and the underlying political-military objectives of those implementing the programmes) are controversial, and many are uneasy over the linkages between humanitarian activity and achieving military goals (more on this on Thursday).

But if much of what has been outlined above does, more or less, fit within what most would expect development aid to look like, there are some areas where the fit is much less comfortable. More on this tomorrow.

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About Mike Jennings

I am a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. My work is on the history and politics of international development in sub-Saharan Africa. Research areas include: - The history of development in Africa, from the late nineteenth century to the current day - Politics of East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) - the role of non-state providers (NGOs, FBOs and self-help groups) in welfare service provision - Social aspects of health, including HIV and AIDS, and malaria
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2 Responses to Who is spending UK international development aid?

  1. Tim Jones says:

    Hi Mike,

    Not sure debt relief is legitimate aid spending. Yes, debt relief can be useful. But what usually happens is the UK’s Export Credits Guarantee Department writes off debts for loans that had nothing to do with development originally. Normally, ECGD cannot even say what the loans were given for.

    Sudan ‘owes’ ECGD £677 million and this is rising by £20 million a year due to the 10 per cent interest being charged on the debt. Sudan hasn’t made any repayments since 1984, when the debt stood at £150 million.

    If and when the debt is cancelled it will not mean any new money for Sudan. Yet £677 million+ will be counted as aid, even though this is a made-up number based on ridiculously high interest rates. Furthermore, ECGD say they do not know what the loans which created the debt were for.

    • Hi Tim,

      thanks for the comments. I tend to agree with you in terms of whether it should be considered aid spending in terms of its effect and impact. I suppose I can see more easily why it might be considered part of overall UK aid spending compared to other areas which seem to be the responsibility of other departments, and where the links to poverty reduction are tenuous at best (although I take the point this could be said about debt relief). Just goes to show the importance of a rigorous examination and questioning of the official data.

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