3 opportunities for the new Secretary of State

manuele-sangalli-83864

The appointment of a new Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt MP to lead DFID presents an opportunity to step up the fight against poverty. Here are three things we would love to see Penny Mordaunt do during her time at DFID:  

1. Act on Aid

The UK have a proud history of delivering quality aid to those in need around the world. It is vital that the UK continues to honour this legacy by maintaining our commitment to spend 0.7% of the UK’s income on international development. It is important that the focus of this spending remains on providing life saving assistance and empowering people to raise themselves out of poverty. [Read more…]

“Ray Bans and the rest of it” – why aid works

This morning I woke up in what appeared to be the eighties. In those first blurry moments, I wondered how long I’d been asleep. Not only was the ‘racist van’ topping the headlines again, but UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was instructing Radio 4 listeners on why he believes it is a travesty that UK taxpayers fund aid to ‘Bongo Bongo land’. Coupled with the link sent to me by a friend to the band ‘Scott and Charlene’s Wedding’ (who married in 1987 fact fans), I honestly did feel like I’d somehow managed to sleepwalk my way into the DeLorean.

While I’m writing this, I’m clicking through as many online atlases as I can, trying to locate ‘Bongo Bongo’ land. Maybe I’ve got the spelling wrong but I’m not having much luck finding it really, maybe because I failed to secure a GCSE in geography, or (as Mr Bloom might contend), as a lady of ‘baby-making age’, I should be at home cleaning behind my fridge and not worrying about such matters.

I’m not going to launch into a detailed, worthy defence of aid here, mainly because people like Godfrey Bloom will stick like glue to their misinformed and frankly offensive opinions, regardless of how much evidence exists to the contrary. And judging by Jim Naughtie’s fairly resigned response to Mr Bloom’s tirade, coupled with the reaction on Twitter, I’m guessing most people are aware that his appraisal of international aid is up there with the Harry Potter series.

However, what I did find mildly interesting was how convicted Mr Bloom was that aid somehow goes on “ray ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it”.

Every time aid gets mentioned, I count under my breath until the cries of ‘corruption!’ rise up. It’s a bit like bingo really – charity begins at home (tick), all the money goes to dictators (tick), they blow it all on space programmes (tick), HOUSE! – but what people like Godfrey Bloom have failed to notice is how much work has been done and is still being undertaken, to ensure that aid goes where it’s most needed and to support citizens in developing countries in building their capacity to hold their own governments to account for its expenditure.

Back in June, the EU passed unprecedented legislation to ensure that multinationals publish what they pay for developing countries’ natural resources, which for some, amounts to seven times what they receive in aid. A significant breakthrough, which will have a serious impact for people living in some of the world’s poorest countries. The next step will be to ensure greater budget transparency, so that citizens all over the world can access information about how their governments are spending their taxes and investments. We hope that this will be considered by countries attending the Open Government Partnership annual meeting in the Autumn, currently chaired by the UK.

But going back to the EU Accounting and Transparency Directives. Eighteen MEPs voted against the groundbreaking transparency legislation in June and Godfrey Bloom was one of them. I’m honestly baffled that someone who opposes UK overseas development assistance on the grounds of corruption, would also openly counter legislation which not only paves the way for far greater transparency in our international and business relations, but might also one day end the need for aid entirely.

Aid works. It really does. In the last ten years, more than 50 million children have started going to school in sub-Saharan Africa, while deaths from measles have fallen by nearly 75%. I could quote and quote and quote statistics. And yet 2.3 million children still die every year from malnutrition. I’m not sure I want to know what Mr Bloom thinks about that, or what he’d say to the 2.3 million mothers who will mourn the desperate loss of their children this year, all because they didn’t have enough food to eat. But I hope that the Great British public drowns out his racist ramblings with furious compassion for those who are worse off than us, because it’s what we do best.

Over 40 years but we finally got there

Image

500 IF Campaigners #SpottheGeorge in Westminster on Tuesday 19 March.
Source: Craig Philbrick, Tearfund.

After the buzz of 500 campaigners in Westminster donning George Osborne masks yesterday (scary but true), and not to mention years of calling for the UK to meet its promises on aid, Budget Day has finally arrived.

As MPs gathered in the Commons to hear the Chancellor’s announcement, aside from the usual political posturing and jeering, there was an air of expectation unlike any other Budget. The atmosphere could even be felt outside the ‘corridors of power’ as campaigners waited with bated breath. For Tearfund it meant huddling around the nearest TV and we were not disappointed on news about international aid.

Today proved to be a momentous occasion to go down in history books as the day when the UK Government finally met its international aid commitment. A day of which the great British public should be proud. Ok, so we won’t get the bunting and flags out as we did for the Olympics or Royal Wedding – nonetheless today is a cause for celebration – we’re the first G8 country to achieve the target.

It was the World Council of Churches who first recommended a target figure for aid, in 1958, a recommendation taken on by the UK in 1970. Since then, Christians across the world and in the UK have been in the vanguard of campaigning for it. After 40 years, we have now reached our pledge of giving 0.7 per cent of our national income to the world’s poorest.

It is not very British to praise the Government, but it should be commended for sticking to its foreign aid manifesto pledge. Whilst aid is a small slice of government spending, any commitment is not to be sniffed at in tough economic times. As the Archbishop of York said today ‘We shouldn’t have to choose between international aid and tackling poverty in the UK. It’s a false choice. Loving our neighbour means showing love and generosity not only to the people down the road, but also to our neighbours wherever they live in the global village. When the poor and vulnerable are left behind then we are all worse off as a society, as a nation and as an international community.’

Our aid commitment will boost investment in agriculture and nutrition to tackle the scandal, which sees nearly 900 million people – one in eight of the world’s population go hungry. It means people like Farasi, a 70-year old woman living in a rural village in Zimbabwe, can now not only feed herself and her grandson, she can also send him to school by selling the extra  crops she has been able to grow through sustainable farming methods. ‘There is no more hunger because of this way of farming,’ she says. ‘As we get surplus we give to others who are poor and do not have enough food’.

Image

Farasi a grandmother and farmer in Zimbabwe. Source: Clive Mear, Tearfund

While we can celebrate this achievement we know that aid alone cannot end poverty and hunger. Existing revenues from tax and investment also needs to be harnessed. That’s why the ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF‘ campaign will continue to call for issues such as greater transparency in tax revenues, in land deals and in government budgets so that ordinary people can hold their governments to account in how money is spent. It is why Tearfund is also calling for greater transparency in extractive industry revenues so that spending can be targeted where they are most needed.

Image

Tamsin Greig, Tearfund supporter and fan of the IF Campaign.
Source: Clive Mear

As well as ensuring that the poorest people in the world can share in the proceeds of growth, through eradicating corruption, communities also need to be resilient to the risks of climate change.  Tearfund is calling on governments to identify new money, outside of aid budgets, to help vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, for example through a shipping emissions levy, so that poor families like Farasi can still feed themselves in a changing climate.

So as the frenzy of the Budget dies down and the news agenda moves on the real job continues to ensure that aid is used effectively. Tearfund is actively speaking out on this issue so that every penny spent reaches those who need it. The UK is leading other donor countries, not only in its commitment but also the fact that DFID is one of the most scrutinised government departments. We owe it to the widow who lost her spouse in conflict, the unemployed farmer who lost his livelihood due to climate change, the child suffering from diarrhoea who cannot access safe drinking water – and the millions of others like them so that their stories can be transformed for the better.

Relief to recovery – how can the international community get better at it?

This is a joint blog post by Sarah Pickwick, Tearfund’s Sudan and South Sudan Policy Officer and Caroline Maxwell.

We know that disasters and crises are becoming more frequent and prolonged. From the deep rooted conflicts in the DRC to crises currently in the news like Syria – many communities struggle to cope. The challenge is to meet both the immediate emergency needs but also develop longer term strategies so that those affected by the crisis can rebuild their lives.

When an agency like Tearfund responds to a disaster situation and then remains there for a long period, say over 10 years, the question inevitably gets asked; ‘how are you transitioning, from a relief context to recovery?’.  Surely just providing basic items such as food and shelter over a long period creates a culture of dependency. So how then do we resolve this challenge when we respond in a protracted and complex humanitarian situation, such as Darfur in Sudan?  These are key questions for NGOs like Tearfund as well as governments and donors that support agencies delivering aid.

A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report commended Tearfund’s DFID funded water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) work in Darfur, for a number of the aspects and in particular how Tearfund’s approach is community-led and focussing on addressing longer term needs.

Our WASH projects both in Darfur, and in many other  prolonged crises where we are responding, can range from installing hand-dug wells, pumped water systems, constructing latrines and doing solid waste management to hygiene promotion activities through women and children’s groups and household visits. Not only do these projects play a part in meeting people’s immediate needs they also lead to more sustained ways of providing WASH services.

Image

Source: Paul Brigham, Tearfund

One way we’ve been adopting a sustainable community-led approach is by working with locals such as Ahmed Hashim Mustafa, a resident of Al Khanama village, who received awareness training about the importance of hygiene. Before the training Ahmed recalls that previously he did not know the importance of having a latrine and that every day he used to use the valley near his home as an open toilet. But after his village participated in a community-led sanitation campaign, he understood how dangerous this was, potentially causing several life-threatening diseases. As a result he dug his own latrine, and now says he will never go to the toilet in the open again. ‘I will also encourage others to dig their latrines to make their village an open defecation free zone’ he said.

Whilst we seek to respond with the most appropriate support according to the situations we are faced with, the key thread that runs through all our work is an emphasis on sustainability and engaging with the communities that we work in, so that they are empowered to analyse and respond to their WASH needs. It’s why years ago we started to move away from relief approaches to focus on early recovery for affected communities. We place a lot of emphasis on including the communities in our work, putting them in the driving seat and building on what they can do themselves by strengthening their knowledge. We strongly believe that this is what donors need to focus on supporting.

Ahmed’s story is just one example of  the approach we take – and we will continue to review and learn how we operate. The ICAI report had useful recommendations for donors as they consider delivery of water and sanitation in protracted crisis, including:

  • Flexibility in delivery: Donor’s initial response should be on emergency WASH service provision, but as the crisis develops and the needs and perceptions of the affected community changes, donors must adapt by changing how they work with partners and deliver aid that promotes longer term solutions.
  • Funding: Donors should have a balanced mix of funding mechanisms in order to spread the risk of working in crisis and for keeping track of how money is used at all stages of a response from strategic planning, allocating resources and monitoring impact. Multi-annual grants should be favoured to ensure a long lasting response.
  • Maximising impact and ensuring effectiveness: Donors should seek to support projects that are sustainable, directly engage communities throughout to ensure ownership (ultimately building their own capacity to deliver), promote learning and also take into account good environmental practices (such as solar powered water pumps etc). Only when these things are taken on board will people in these situations experience real change.

To contribute further to this debate Tearfund will shortly publish two pieces of broader research, one funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), looking at the best approaches to deliver WASH within complex emergencies, and the other funded by DFID, exploring whether delivery of WASH can contribute towards peace- and state-building.

We’ll be blogging more about this soon, with links to our reports so watch this space!

Was Cameron’s announcement on aid to MoD politically astute?

Image

PM official picture from Number 10 website

I may regret saying this. As the saying goes, the devil is always in the detail. However, I can’t help wondering if today’s “announcement” by Cameron that some more of the aid budget should be spent by the Ministry of Defence might not be such a bad thing.

– Firstly, some aid spend already goes through the MoD and the Independent reports that only around £100m additional money year is being considered.  An amount that can obviously make a big impact providing health, education or water projects. But, actually, not a big percentage of the overall £11 billion aid budget.

-Secondly, he said that spend would be in line with international OECD guidelines, which are reasonably strict on what does and doesn’t count as aid. So while spend on new weapons would be wrong, my understanding is that wouldn’t count. While, say, more support for peacekeeping in DRC, for example, could be a good thing.

– And thirdly, lets face it, Cameron has an uphill struggle to get his own party behind 0.7% commitment. If announcements like this – which perhaps initially sound worse than they really are – help, then maybe it’s a good political call, and the criticism which follows could be part of his political calculation.

That’s not to say I don’t have any concerns. It is going to be hugely important for all of us with an interest – media, charities, the International Development Select Committee and the Independent Commission on Aid Impact –  to keep an eye on what the Government (not just DFID, but MOD, Department for Energy and Climate Change, Foreign Office etc) are spending aid on to make sure it really is in line with the law and is actually reducing poverty.  To give another example, we’ve also recently been worried by £110m of aid classified as climate finance going to a private equity firms for investments which we aren’t sure will go to the countries that need them most.

But, I’m reasonably hopeful we have the mechanisms we need to raise the alarm when concerns are raised and we just need to make sure that we use them. Whilst it’s vital that the #IF campaign keeps up the pressure to make sure that the Chancellor meets the 0.7% commitment, it will also be extremely important that pressure continues after the announcement is made, to ensure that the money is being spent legitimately and is really transforming poor communities.

It would also be wrong to imply that only aid spent by MOD can help promote stability. We know that investment in education, agriculture and in tackling corruption can help build stable societies and promote peace.  But my biggest concern about the announcement is that the MOD may be asked to deliver aid projects rather than just peace keeping. Attempts by military in Afghanistan to “win hearts and minds” by building schools and delivery other community projects were widely criticised for being bad development (no community ownership, badly designed etc) and for putting lives of aid workers at risk by blurring distinctions between humanitarian and military assistance.

A political announcement to gain short term support is one thing, but using aid in a way which is dangerous, doesn’t help the people who need it most or which is against international laws, will just undermine the case for aid. We know that aid can work, does save lives and that the UK Government can have a massive impact by reaching 0.7%. But this is a reminder that campaigning on aid can’t stop when we meet that target, but should be an ongoing – and constructive – dialogue with government.

Finally a Telegraph front page story on climate finance…

…though not the one we would have dreamed of. You got the feeling a different, and dare I say better, report got hijacked and turned into a tirade against aid and wind farms.

So let’s focus on a few of the facts quoted in the story:

1.      Britain has pledged almost £2billion in taxpayers money to tackle climate change in developing countries – this means each household will pay the equivalent of £70

The £1.8 billion in climate finance pledged for 2013-2015 is not new money – the figures are complicated but it’s been announced before, just framed in a slightly different way. The reason why NGOs jumped up and down is that we are desperate to use the UK’s leadership on this issue to encourage other developed countries to come forward at the Doha climate talks and pledge their share of international climate finance. That’s another commitment we developed countries including the UK have already made – to mobilise $100billion a year for climate action in developing countries from 2020.

And this money comes directly from the overseas aid budget which is already committed – Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem policy is to increase ODA to 0.7% of GNI – this money is within that commitment – so we aren’t talking suddenly about new money to come out of household bills.

As such, it comes from tax, not some spurious household budget, and is the equivalent of 0.2 pence in the basic rate of income tax. For the average earner, this pledge amounts to about £3.60 a year – but remember, this is not new tax, it is tax already earmarked (calculations below).

Incidentally, we are calling on the Government to find new sources of money for climate finance so that they don’t have to keep raiding already stretched budgets. For example, unlike for domestic businesses, there is currently no emissions levy on international shipping. Bill Gates has suggested in a report to G20 ministers that this is a plausible source.

2.      Wind farms are all but useless and nobody wants them in England let alone in Africa.

For a start this is certainly not £1.8 billion for wind farms in Africa. Half is finance for various forms of clean energy and to address deforestation, and half to help people adapt to the effects of changing weather patterns which we’ve caused by our excessive carbon emissions.

A recent poll found that actually people ‘in England’ do want more wind farms. The Fabian Society and WWF commissioned poll found that 57% of the public and 53% of Tory voters said the UK should commit to generating most of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 with just 10% opposing the idea. And a ComRes poll in June found overall 68% of people favoured more wind farms – with 58% of Conservatives in favour.

And wind farms are far from useless – a recent report by IPPR and renewable energy consultancy, GL Garrad Hassan (owned by GL Group which has interests in the oil and gas sectors) found that wind was a reliable source and power and that it reduced the UK’s CO2 emissions.

The report found that in 2011, wind turbines in the UK saved a minimum of 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 (if gas was displaced) and a maximum of over 12 million tonnes (if coal was displaced).Offshore wind is capable of providing  up to 45 per cent of the UK’s total electricity needs in 2030 (Climate Change Committee 2011)) – and the Carbon Trust estimates it could contribute £3–10 billion annually to the economy between 2010 and 2050 (Carbon Trust 2011).

And the Renewable Energy Association (REA) and RenewableUK believes wind power could create 76,000 jobs by 2021 and deliver nearly £700,000 value for each megawatt of onshore wind capacity installed.

Furthermore, the IPPR report concludes that while renewable energy subsidies do add to energy bills, from 2004 to 2010, government support for renewables added £30 to the average energy bill while rises in the wholesale cost of gas added £290.

Wind turbines may or may not be the best form of energy in all developing countries – say solar or geothermal might be more appropriate. But the developing world needs our climate finance – the poorest communities are being hit now by climate change. And we promised to provide it. Lets not break that promise.

 (1)  How we did our maths – thanks/blame for my colleague Sam!

–         The Telegraph call a 1.8 billion spend “£2 billion”  – good to know that £200 million of taxpayers money is just rounding for the Telegraph (as they criticise a £100million project).

–         Their claim is ‘it will cost every household in the UK £70’: calculated by dividing £1.8bn by 26.3million households in the UK (=£68.44)

  • ·BUT

–         This money comes out of general taxation (the DFID budget)

–         This money is amortised over at two years (2013-14, 2014-15– i.e. £900million a year.

–         (Back of an envelope calculation) As the Telegraph has pointed out, a penny on the basic rate of income tax is worth £4.4billion a year. Therefore this spend costs approximately 0.2p (4.4/.9= 4.8) in the penny of the basic rate of tax. In 2009, mean  gross incomes were around £26,000, median around £20,000 (BBC 2009 report). Total tax on a mean income at 20%, less a rough threshold of £8,000 is £1,800, so this makes up around £3.60 of the average taxpayer’s total tax contribution a year.

–         Someone else might want to explore the actual taxpayer cost (Income tax, Capital Gains Tax and National insurance only makes up 55% of treasury tax receipts (and treasury income is supplemented by loans, so this percentage falls in terms of contribution to public spending); and of course taxation is progressive, with higher earners paying proportionately more, so the burden is even more equitably distributed. 

%d bloggers like this: