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Photo: Kate Holt, Oxfam | Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Aid definition and spending must focus on reducing poverty, says IDC

5 June 2018

The International Development Select Committee has published their inquiry into the definition and administration of official development assistance (ODA). The final report examines the current definition of ODA in light of the high-level meeting of the OECD DAC in October 2017, and critiques how UK aid is spent across government.     

We co-authored and submitted written evidence to the inquiry, and were called to give oral evidence to the Committee.  

The report scrutinised ODA’s definition, administration and objectives to reduce poverty and promote national interest. The IDC approved the current ODA definition and raised concerns over spending outside of DFID by other government departments, particularly the Prosperity Fund and Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).

Definition of ODA 

The committee’s inquiry says:

  • No major changes to the current definition of ODA are required.
  • They oppose other, more far-reaching proposals to be counted as ODA, such as counting all humanitarian assistance, irrespective of the economic status of the recipient country or territory, as aid.
  • Attempts to “manipulate the definition risk damaging the UK’s reputation for expertise and professionalism in aid delivery”.
  • the UK should continue to provide whatever assistance is necessary to its overseas territories, as required under the International Development Act 2002.

Recommendations for administration and objectives

The committee recommends:

  • The government should make systematic improvements to coherence, transparency and - most crucially – the poverty focus of cross-government fund projects before increasing their share of UK ODA any further. 
  • DFID should play the leading role in developing the capacity of ODA-administering departments across Whitehall, including the secretary of state for international development having ultimate responsibility for oversight of the UK’s ODA and DFID having final sign off of all ODA.
  • The government must outline how it intends to measure progress towards the commitment to publish data to IATI standards by 2020.
  • Given concerns around transparency and aid effectiveness, reviews should be undertaken of both the Prosperity Fund and the CSSF.
  • ICAI should be given responsibility to scrutinise the totality of the cross-government funds, as well as other blended ODA/non-ODA programmes.

Reducing poverty should always come first 

The IDC recommendations rightly put reducing poverty in the lives of others at the heart of aid spending.  The quality of aid - and the British public’s trust in aid - would improve greatly if the secretary of state had increased oversight for aid delivery across all government departments. 

Bond warmly welcomes these, which provide a clear signal to all government aid spending departments that the purpose of aid is for poverty reduction, and should meet international development and aid effectiveness standards. All UK aid should be subject to the same levels of public scrutiny as aid spent by DFID, which is why the committee’s recommendation for the Secretary of State having oversight of all government aid spending is welcome.

We have long shared concerns that other government departments and funds, including the Prosperity Fund and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, don’t always prioritise poverty reduction, or meet the standards in effectiveness and transparency expected from the UK. Better coherence across government spending would ensure all UK aid is used to effectively tackle poverty, promote sustainable development, and enable gender equality.

We also welcome the committee’s recommendation for no major changes to the current definition of ODA and their advising against any attempts to “manipulate” the definition, which risks damaging the UK’s reputation for expertise and professionalism in aid delivery. 

The current definition ensures that ODA spending is targeted on poverty reduction. Although imperfect, any attempts to “update” the definition could place the UK’s global reputation in jeopardy. 

Read more about UK aid spending in our aid hub.