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What does the future of the UK’s international development look like?
At the start of this week, the UK government released its much delayed International Development Strategy. What does this strategy say and what will it mean for people living in poverty?
… what is the International Development Strategy?
The International Development Strategy sets out what the UK’s approach to development will be for the next ten years, and highlights the priorities for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office going forward.
Given the timeframe, this is the strategy that must enable the UK to play its part in realising the Sustainable Development Goals, which are intended to be achieved globally by 2030, ending poverty and hunger.
The strategy comes at a time when conflict, climate change, and inequality are driving increases in global hunger. World hunger levels have been rising since 2015 with up to 811 million people now going hungry every day. These trends have been further exacerbated by the impacts of Covid-19 and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Inequality is also increasing, both within and between countries. Without action, more than 80% of the world’s poorest people will be living in fragile contexts by 2030.
We needed to see the government deliver a strategy that would help it to put marginalised people first, that would continue its commitment to fragile contexts and address the underlying drivers of poverty.
What does the strategy say?
The strategy – at 30 pages – is light on detail on many of the most important issues for international development. While there are some welcome words on the importance of addressing the climate crisis, global health and supporting women and girls, it is clear from the focus of the strategy that the government has chosen to prioritise trade and investment. This is disappointing; the FCDO’s own analysis has highlighted that, without targeted initiatives, development gains may not benefit the hardest to reach. A focus on trade and investment over more targeted approaches will leave those people living with extreme poverty behind.
The strategy outlines the UK’s commitment to humanitarian response, prioritising humanitarian funding levels of £3 billion over the next 3 years (although this reflects a reduction in actual terms). The approaches referenced are positive: preventing and anticipating future shocks, building resilience by tackling underlying drivers of crises, instability and extreme food insecurity. As the UK develops its budgets, these words will need to be matched with funding.
There is also an indication of how the UK will work; with a focus on bilateral aid over multilateral (through institutions like the World Bank) and on reducing bureaucracy in the system to enable quicker delivery. This will be welcome if it means that local and national actors – those who are the first to respond in an emergency – can more easily access funding.
Much is said about using British expertise; the strategy aims to maximise “UK expertise, business, civil society networks, research partnerships and technology capability”. However, there is very little about how to make sure that those who are meant to benefit from the UK’s development have a voice in what the UK does (and how it does it). From working with people living with poverty, we know that the most effective programmes are those that are context specific and informed by local knowledge. Local communities are best placed to make decisions about the challenges they face.
Since the establishment of the FCDO two years ago, analysis has found that the UK’s focus on poverty eradication is declining. This strategy appears to continue the trend.
The proof will be in implementation. Given the cuts to the UK’s aid budget, and the many crises we are faced with today – in Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, and Afghanistan amongst others – it is difficult to see how the rhetoric will be turned into action.
As the UK starts to rebalance its aid to spend more bilaterally, we urge the government to ensure that this goes to the countries and people who need it the most. Concern will continue to work hard to ensure that the UK government’s efforts do not lose sight of the world’s poorest people, living in some of the most fragile contexts.
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