The End of the Department for International Development!

In September 2020 the long standing Department for International Development (DFID) merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

You can read more about the merger here.

DFID was established as a separate department in 1997 under the New Labour Government, and its aim was to focus exclusively on delivering overseas aid, and over the last 23 years its budget has been increased steadily to around $15 billion a year, meaning that the UK was one of few developed countries to meet its commitment to spend 0.7% GDP on aid, part of the old Millennium Development Goals.

The new conservative administration had been making noises about merging DFID with the FCO for some time, and it finally made the announcement in June 2020, and by September, DFID was no more. (Many DFID employees accused the government of doing this by stealth, using Covid-19 to disguise the move.)

This will probably refocus aid spending on defence and trade rather than poverty reduction

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office lists as its primary responsibilities:

‘pursuing national interests, promoting Britain as a force for good in the world, British security, as well as (since the merger) reducing poverty and meeting global challenges’. 

According to The Conversation this means the UK government has now changed its focus on how it spends aid. 

It will now be prioritising promoting Britain’s national interests – trade and security, rather than on global poverty reduction.  This was a trend that had already started to happen before the merger and shows how national political priorities can shape in very direct ways the way international aid money is spent.

Historically, DFID has tended to portion out aid money to projects that are already running, rather than setting up its own new projects, with Health care and Disaster relief being two of the larger expenditure areas, and countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Nigeria receiving the most aid.

However, now we will likely see more being spent in the areas of governance, security, and trade assistance, with security risk countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan maybe receiving more aid, as well as countries that have well established trade links with the UK and with potential to benefit UK companies abroad.

All of that is in line with using aid to promote national interests.

It’s too early to say whether or not aid money will now be spent more effectively under this new regime, but it’s certainly worth knowing about this change if you’re studying the global development option as part of A-level sociology!