This week, the UK finds itself with a new prime minister who will take up their role at a moment of extraordinary uncertainty, unprecedented times.
A growing global hunger crisis emerges alongside, and is related to, the bitter and dangerous war in Ukraine, while the high level of displacement from conflict and climate change globally creates urgent needs that, if unmet, will themselves drive further conflict.
We asked our working groups what they hope to see from new Prime Minister Liz Truss, as well as the new Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly. Here is what they had to say.
As restrictions and attacks on civil society continue unabated, the new foreign secretary must deliver on the government’s outstanding promise to develop and publish a cross-government civic space strategy, the first of its kind globally.
The strategy must be based upon a robust analysis of the context and future trends and with meaningful input from a diverse cross section of civil society, both here in the UK and around the world. To ensure that it is implemented effectively, it should be fully funded and receive sufficiently high-level ministerial support.
Communications between the development community and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have been fraught. The lack of transparency around the funding cuts has resulted in a need to rebuild trust between NGOs and the UK government.
Bond can provide an effective conduit for communications. However, it requires proactive engagement from the foreign secretary, including recognition of the concerns held by the community and how the UK government can help ensure aid funding plays a positive role in sustainable, equitable, locally led development.
We hope to see communications from the FCDO with integrity, including rationale for what spending is considered “non-essential” when reviewing funding, and a move away from using aid as a tool to gain political and economic power. Instead, we want a commitment to supporting marginalised communities. including those currently experiencing severe drought and food insecurity in the Horn of Africa.
As communications professionals, we wish to support the UK government to work in solidarity with the most vulnerable people around the world, especially those impacted by the climate crisis. We can offer clear evidence and messaging, meetings with our senior leaders and opportunities to visit work to understand the credible, sustainable solutions available.
However, we are facing a potential shrinking of civil society, with many small NGOs facing funding difficulties amid the cost-of-living crisis. There is a huge amount of effective work done by smaller organisations, which should be protected through support from the UK government and by reducing barriers to FCDO funding.
The UK has historically prided itself on investing in resilience and tackling these drivers globally by promoting good governance, healthy civil society, and sustainable resource management.
This must be set alongside a mixed record when it comes to security and military interventions – often achieving neither British strategic aims, such as stabilisation, nor enduring positive change for those living in authoritarian contexts. With Ukraine, it is of the utmost importance that, however the UK responds to today’s crises, it does so in close and concerted cooperation with other governments and actors committed to international law.
Additionally, against this background, we would urge a renewed focus on prevention of conflict, and on conflict as both symptom and catalyst of systemic failures such as extreme poverty and food insecurity, climate vulnerability, corruption, and unjust power relations.
Spending on civilian peacebuilding and conflict prevention has gone down both in real terms and as a proportion of a now much smaller humanitarian spend. This must be reversed.
Indeed, alongside international coordination to prevent a geopolitical escalation, there must also be a close and concerted cooperation with grassroots and local civil society in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, where local and subnational actors lead and shape peacebuilding and conflict-prevention interventions, not simply act as “implementing partners”.
This should include a clear framework for tailoring outreach for grants and tenders to local actors and stakeholders, including the provision of accessible, flexible and sustained funding for organisations appropriate to fragile contexts. Women, youth, and child peacebuilders should be included as a matter of course.
And finally, urgent humanitarian work in fragile and conflict affected contexts should explicitly keep in view the impact of interventions upon the civic sphere, especially where it is subject to serious constraint and repression.
Indeed, alongside the government’s laudable aspiration to incorporate gender-sensitivity more consistently, UK interventions should be evaluated in part by the effect they have upon the civic sphere or, where no such sphere meaningfully exists, the environment in which a healthy civic sphere could emerge in future, such as the rule of law, human rights compliance, transparency, freedom of association and expression, democratic accountability and perceived legitimacy at a local level.
The Bond Disability and Development Group, representing 45 organisations committed to disability inclusive development, asks the PM and foreign secretary to ensure that the UK government will actively be “working with, listening to and answering the needs of people with disabilities across the globe” and will deliver on the commitments given by the UK government at the Global Disability Summit and the FCDO Disability Inclusion and Rights Strategy both launched in February 2022.
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We also ask for the incoming government to ensure that the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto’s commitment to “stand up for the right of every girl in the world to have 12 years of quality education” is retained. Since 33 million children with disabilities worldwide are not in school, and girls with disabilities make up the majority of out of school children, girls with disabilities must be at the heart of the UK’s commitment to support girls’ quality education.
Across the globe, one in seven people has a disability. This makes people with disabilities one of the largest minorities in the world. In the last two years, the pandemic and the global aid cuts have had a devastating impact on people in the world’s poorest places – especially people with disabilities.
Now is not the time to weaken our global leadership, but to demonstrate the UK’s unique ability to tackle global poverty and create opportunities for the most marginalised, by focusing efforts and aid spending where the need is greatest.
The FCDO should develop a strategy covering how they plan to create and support locally led funding initiatives, expanding on and detailing commitments made in the International Development Strategy. The FCDO should regularly engage with INGOs and local and national actors in doing this, also providing clarity on what they mean by ”locally led” and ”localisation”.
The FCDO should aim for increased levels of flexible funding to flow directly into the hands of national actors and local organisations.
The FCDO should set initial targets for funding allocations to go directly to local actors, which are transparent and trackable.
The FCDO should include the voices of those based in lower- and middle-income countries as part of their policy engagement and consultation processes.
The Humanitarian Working Group (HWG) would like the new foreign secretary to take action in the following areas.
Resolve the current funding freeze and offer an update on the anticipated restoration to 0.7% in the October budget, ensuring that a needs-based approach to humanitarian funding is taken by the government.
As a matter of priority, the new foreign secretary needs to immediately consider the unprecedented global food crisis that is currently unfolding, and take swift action to prevent more needless suffering, particularly by allocating the funds required to save lives.
The HWG urges the FCDO to develop a strategy on how they plan to create and support locally led funding initiatives, expanding on and detailing commitments made in the international development strategey. The FCDO should regularly engage with INGOs and local and national actors in doing this, also providing clarity on what they mean by ”locally led” and ”localisation”.
The HWG would also like to see the FCDO aim for increased levels of flexible funding to flow directly into the hands of national actors and local organisations.
The HWG also calls on the FCDO to set initial targets for funding allocations to go directly to local actors, which are transparent and trackable via established systems such as the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Giving unrestricted flexible funding puts communities and local organisations in the lead and allows them to decide where to invest money.
We also ask that the new foreign secretary maintains their predecessor’s commitment to putting women and girls at the heart of foreign policy. The HWG would urges the FCDO to publish their Women and Girls’ Strategy, detailing exactly how the women and girls’ aid budget will be restored, and to who, and set out a strategy for funding, both long-term and flexibly, and working with women-led organisations around the world, particularly in fragile and conflict affected countries.
Finally, we would like the next phase of the government’s roll-out of its international development strategy to make clear how it will deliver for all age groups. It did not refer explicitly to the impact of global ageing, nor did it consider needs throughout the course of life, or the specific needs and rights of older people.
We welcome the new foreign secretary and look forward to reading the department’s response to the International Development Committee’s report, Racism in the aid sector. The report was clear that there is a real role for FCDO to play in addressing racism across the sector and in its department. We want to encourage FCDO’s leadership on this to engage with NGOs and with people of colour to create a plan and implement it. Addressing racism is fundamental to delivering on our missions and something that should be central to FCDO’s direction of travel and strategy. We look forward to engaging.
Building on progress made in Afghanistan and Ukraine, the government should seek to reduce the impact of sanctions measures on humanitarian action and conflict resolution by issuing exceptions or general licenses for humanitarian activity and peacebuilding work for all UK sanctions regimes, including Syria and Myanmar.
The Transparency Working Group calls on the incoming PM to re-commit to greater transparency and accountability of public finance, particularly with regards to the aid budget.
The 2015 aid strategy under the former Department for International Development led by example in its policy aims for greater transparency and accountability of taxpayer money by calling for all UK government departments that spend official development assistance (ODA) funds to be ranked as “Good” or “Very Good” in the international Aid Transparency Index.
Following the creation of the FCDO and the publication of its new strategy in 2022, this commitment and the actions taken towards it have been watered down, which is a worrying sign for civil society organisations that study the UK’s ODA and aid spending and the public accountability more broadly.
In a year of growing future health threats and with record temperatures, droughts and floods across Europe and the world, the critical importance of water security and protecting and providing the human right to drinking water and sanitation could not be starker.
Successive changes in aid focus within the FCDO and between bilateral and multi-lateral actors has reduced the FCDO’s WASH and Water Resource Management capacity, disproportionately to the level of overall cuts. Funding to the sector must be restored to 2018 levels in order for the UK to continue to play a world-leading role on this issue and strengthen water governance and service delivery systems for long-term change.
Clean drinking water, safely managed sanitation and hygiene, at home, at work, in school and particularly in health facilities are essential to public health – reducing infant mortality, empowering women and girls, tackling emerging health threats like Anti-Microbial resistance and boosting pandemic preparedness.
Recent research by the WHO finds that only one-third of healthcare facilities in the world’s least developed countries had basic hygiene services in 2021. For the UK to help reverse this trend it must begin to deliver programmes that outwork the priorities outlined in the Ending Preventable Deaths and Health System Strengthening papers.
The climate crisis is here, and climate change means water change: floods, droughts, rainfall variability affecting health, food security and productivity. The UK government must continue to increase its investment of International Climate Financing to support locally led climate adaptation projects that deliver clean water to communities.
Furthermore, this funding approach should be combined with a focus on global water security and the policy and regulatory structures needed to bring systemic change this should be addressed by a UK strategy on global water security like the recently launched US Action Plan on Global Water Security.
Investment in adaptation, water resource management and water stewardship needs to be scaled up to meet the coming challenges and prevent economic and social upheaval. This means more than funding: a cross-government approach orients our economy towards solutions, requiring and supporting corporate water stewardship and WASH at work throughout the UK’s consumer supply chains.