DfID and FCO to be merged

9th July 2020

On 16 June Boris Johnson announced that the Department for International Development (DfID) will be merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), under the rebranded department name of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office. Due to be formally established in September, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will head up the new department while International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan will remain only until the merger is completed.

Why does this matter?

Well, let’s start with the fact that no consultation was made with the UK’s international development and humanitarian sector, who firmly believe that DfID is the most transparent and effective way for spending Official Development Assistance (ODA) for the benefit of the poorest. If that wasn’t quite enough, the government have ignored the recommendations of independent aid scrutiny bodies, including the International Development Select Committee. While DfID has an excellent reputation as an independent body that uses its expertise to make significant improvements globally (including on education, health, social services, environmental protection, sanitation and most recently assisting in dealing with the current Covid-19 pandemic), the FCO has been criticised for using UK aid to advance security and diplomatic interests, rather than directing it to reduce poverty. And herein lies the problem: transparency. In the 2018 Aid Transparency Index, DfID received a ‘very good’ rating of 90.6, whilst the FCO received a ‘poor’ rating of just 34.3. This year’s figures have kept DfID as ‘very good’, coming 9th out of 47 organisations; in contrast, the FCO, although lifted to ‘fair’, comes out in 38th position

The government has argued that the UK’s aid policy is too detached from its foreign policy and that the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid has left DfID with a budget five times that of the FCO. Furthermore, the PM believes that the money should be spent more strategically to protect British values from overseas threats and prevent funding being given to potentially corrupt countries. On the other side of the argument, there is concern (including from MPs on all sides of the political spectrum) that the more political FCO will have a negative effect on the specific poverty reduction goals and work on the ground that DfID so successfully achieves, by diverting resources to support British interests based on political strategy.

Having worked with DfID for many years, DSN-UK is extremely concerned by the change. They have been champions in addressing social exclusion and the rights of the poorest minorities, notably in India, and have been open to allowing input from us and other NGOs. In 2005 we pressed the department to include caste discrimination in their programme on Social Exclusion, particularly in regard to Nepal and India, and were delighted that joint initiatives with the World Bank ensured support for Dalit NGOs. More recently, in 2016, we made a joint submission with the Asia Dalit Rights

Forum to have ensure that the issue of caste-based discrimination was included in their Sustainable Development Goals. Our relationship with DfID has allowed us to make a genuine difference to the lives of Dalits.

Taking the opportunity during the 22 June House of Lords question time on Covid-19 and supply chains, Baroness Northover, asked a particularly pertinent question: ‘My Lords, with the downgrading of DfID, how do the Government now plan to enhance the rights of the many vulnerable women and girls working in supply chains, or the Dalits of both sexes in south Asia?’ Disappointingly, the only reply was that the department was not being downgraded. DSN-UK is proud to have put its name to a statement released by BOND and signed by 191 organisations, which clearly states our objection to this merger. We believe that DfID’s independence is crucial and that the UK is at risk of losing our internationally renowned position on overseas aid and consequently our ability to bring our influence to bear on the most pressing matters that the global community faces.