At a Big Tent Digital event last night (24 November) international development experts from Unicef UK and Centre for Global Development criticised the planned decrease in the UK aid budget and called for the Government to ensure the remaining budget is used more efficiently and that the ambitious pledges outlined in the Conservative’s 2019 manifesto are delivered on.


Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, who was recently appointed the UK’s International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience for the COP26 Presidency, did not directly comment on the Government’s budget review but did defend the overall foreign policy strategy of the Government, arguing that the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Commonwealth Office means it will work more efficiently: “The ambition is to have a full toolkit which can be used in a much more coherent and impactful way. It’s not always about the cash but bringing together different actors to find solutions.”


Trevelyan’s focus throughout the one hour session was on highlighting the issues that Government will be championing over the coming year when the UK will be hosting not only COP26 but also a G7 summit:


“2021 provides a fantastic opportunity for the UK to highlight the importance of sustainable and inclusive development,” she said, and argued the importance of not overlooking challenges to communities around the Globe that aren’t directly related to COVID-19, especially as vaccines are rolled out throughout the coming year, with climate change being the most pressing:


“Whilst we’re seeing light at end of the tunnel the climate challenge hasn’t disappeared, it is very much still there. We will have to play our part in getting to grips with it.”


“There is a collective understanding recognising the urgency of the climate emergency and that we must take action and not just talk about it.”


“We need to support countries to help them adapt and make then resilient to climate shocks.”


Ranil Dissanayake, currently a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, was critical of the cuts to foreign aid, saying “there is a lot of fear in the development sector” about what it will mean. He did express certain optimism however, saying that any negative effects of cuts can be mitigated by making sure the remaining funds are spent more efficiently. If not, he does not deem it likely that the Conservatives will be able to meet the pledges set out in their own 2019 manifesto:


“The cuts need to protect spending on the poorest countries. If instead, the cuts are focused on protecting the big cross-government funds and padding out the work of UK institutions, goals set by the manifesto will be failed.”


Dissanayake also acknowledged climate change as an enormous challenge to be prioritised, and contrary to many in his field he thinks the recent DFID/FCO merger can actually work in its favour:


“The challenge of global climate change is enormous. We need to focus on things that have a local return in affected places.”


“I think this is generally an agenda where stakes are extremely high and the merger of DFID and FCO potentially gives us a better set of tools to use.”


Joanna Rea, Director of Advocacy at Unicef UK, also expressed worry about the budget cuts, citing depressing figures of how COVID-19 has eliminated a lot of progress made globally when it comes to development:


“Given the scale of the impact and the progress in reverse we very much hope the Government does not reduce the aid budget.”


“Because of the wider impact of the pandemic on children around the world we’re seeing that the number of children in extreme poverty is increasing. All things we have been making progress on is going in the wrong direction.”


“We’ve seen is a complete breakdown of primary care of children around the world. At the start of lockdown more than a billion learners were out of school.”


“We’re estimating that two million children will die this year because of the wider impact of COVID.”


Rea acknowledged that the Government has made “a lot of progress” when it comes to international development policy and agreed with Trevelyan that next year’s summits offers an opportunity for the UK to set its ambitions high and galvanise the international community when it comes to combatting climate change:


“What’s happening at this moment is that it has helped us see the opportunity we have to enact change. We need to harness that and seize the opportunity. Our response to this has shown what’s possible.”


“COVID is the mock exam, climate change is going to be the real test.”


Finally, she highlighted that the sector is looking to the Government to go from talk to action next year, suggesting that failing to do so might undermine trust in its intent to deliver on its manifesto commitments: “There is a lot of talk about how we build back better – it’s in danger of becoming an empty phrase.”

Big Tent Ideas Festival

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