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In wake of sexual abuse scandals, UK bans government officials providing international development assistance from having sexual relations with recipients

The UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has recently announced that it is banning its government officials that provide international development assistance from having any sexual relationships with the recipients of UK development assistance. Parliament opened an inquiry that led to the ban following reports of sexual abuse scandals that rocked the UK charity sector in 2018.

The FCDO noted that the inherently unequal power relations between development assistance staff and recipients means these types of relationships are inappropriate. If staff members are found to be breaching this rule, it will be treated as potential gross misconduct.

The new regulation came in response to concerns expressed by the UK parliament’s International Development Select Committee that the government’s new strategy on safeguarding against sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in the sector only strongly discouraged intimate relations but did not outright ban them.

The International Development Select Committee is now trying to establish whether the new ban applies to other government departments responsible for delivering UK development assistance or only applies to FCDO officials.

News article - Reuters

UK announces US$62 million in new support to Rohingya refugees and Bangladesh

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced an additional £48 million (US$62 million) of UK development assistance to support the refugees of the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh, as well as to help Bangladesh deal with the COVID-19 crisis and natural disasters (which are worsening due to the climate crisis). The commitment was announced just ahead of the UK, US, European Union, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) co-hosting a pledging conference for the Rohingya crisis.

The UK will have provided close to £300 million (US$389 million) to the Rohingya crisis since 2017, when thousands of Rohingya people escaped Myanmar's brutal, systematic violence against them. About 860,000 of the Rohingya who escaped Myanmar live in Cox's Bazar, a district in Bangladesh with overcrowded refugee camps, with no access to formal education or work opportunities.

£38 million (US$49 million) of the new funding will support humanitarian assistance in Cox’s Bazar and the other £10 million (US$13 million) will assist the country in responding to the pandemic and natural disasters, such as flooding, which make the refugees' conditions more difficult.

Press release - UK government

UK spending review to provide budgets for government departments for just one year, due to COVID-19

The UK government has announced that it is scaling back its ambitions for its forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) due in late November as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Normally, the CSR enables the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to set out a medium-term spending framework for all government departments for a three to five year period. However, due to the high levels of economic uncertainty produced by the pandemic, this year’s CRS has been scaled back and will provide the budgets for all departments (resources and capital budgets) for 2021-22 only.

This includes setting the budget for the new Foreign, Development and Commonwealth and its international development assistance budget. The UK has already announced that there will be cuts to the development assistance budget of 20% for 2020-21, and it has indicated that further cuts are expected next year.

The government has noted that the forthcoming CRS will focus on three key areas:

  • Supporting jobs;
  • Enhancing support for vital public services to deliver first-class frontline services; and
  • Investing in infrastructure to level up the country and drive economic growth.

Press release - UK government

Members of UK's Conservative Party call for national leadership on WASH and nutrition

Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Andrew Mitchell, a former Secretary for State for International Development, wrote an article in the Telegraph newspaper calling for UK global leadership on 'water, sanitation and hygiene' (WASH). In the same newspaper, Conservative MP David Mundell, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nutrition, made a similar plea for UK leadership on nutrition.

Regarding WASH, Mitchell highlighted the problem that three-quarters of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have soap and water with which to wash their hands at home. He also noted the limited funding to date available for addressing the problem – even before the COVID-19 crisis, only 15% of countries had the money they needed to get water, lavatories, and hygiene to the people in their country without it. Mitchell underlined the importance of WASH to address COVID-19 and noted that out of the US$20.00 trillion committed to the COVID-19 response so far by the international community, only 0.02% has support WASH interventions. He called on the UK to encourage other donors to come behind the UN’s 'Hand Hygiene for All' partnership. He also indicated that the UK should use its upcoming G7 and COP26 leadership to highlight that addressing climate change and the pandemic requires a focus on the basics of water and sanitation.

Regarding nutrition, Mundell cited the pandemic's impact on undernourishment, noting that the UN is warning that the number of people facing starvation could double to 260 million with a further five million likely to suffer 'wasting' (connected to a higher risk of death if not properly treated). Mundell acknowledged UK leadership in the past on nutrition. However, he also noted that UK development assistance on nutrition will run out this year and called on the foreign secretary to renew the government's commitments to addressing global malnutrition.

News article - The Telegraph

News article - The Telegraph

UK government calls for more comprehensive debt deal, for World Bank to ensure COVID-19 response helps most vulnerable

The UK Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Dominic Raab, called for a more comprehensive debt deal and for the World Bank to ensure its COVID-19 response targets those most in need.

Speaking at the World Bank’s 102nd Development Committee, Raab welcomed the recent G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). However, he noted that it needed to be extended to 2021, and he highlighted that for some countries, debt relief will be required. He also encouraged the participation of all private and official creditors and encouraged the World Bank to work with others to strengthen the sovereign debt resolution architecture.  

Raab set out the UK’s vision for the World Bank’s response to COVID-19, noting that the UK expected all of the World Bank’s arms—including International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Development Association (IDA), and International Finance Corporation (IFC)—to work together to provide additional support to help countries recover and rebuild. In particular, Raab noted the following:  

  • The IFC and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) should use their financial capacity to provide liquidity and counter-cyclical support to the private sector to tackle problems facing low-income countries including capital outflows, lower commodity prices, and the loss of revenues in key sectors;
  • The World Bank should focus on global food security and risks of famine given predictions of rising numbers of people hungry in 2020 (Raab noted this would mean delivering funding quickly, strengthening social safety nets, building more climate-resilient food systems, and improving food markets);
  • The World Bank should use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to build back in a sustainable and green manner in low-income countries; and
  • The World Bank should focus support on the most vulnerable and excluded people who have been often more heavily impacted by the crisis.

Press release - UK government

UK government signs new agreement with UNFPA Supplies to support family planning

The UK government on October 15, 2020 signed a new agreement with UNFPA Supplies, pledging £425 million (US$558 million) to ensure that 20 million girls and women will have access to family planning every year up to 2025.

UNFPA Supplies is the United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA's) thematic program for expanding access to family planning, such as through providing contraceptives and maternal health medications, as well as helping strengthen health services. 

This is part of the UK’s commitment in 2019 to provide £600 million (US$788 million) for family planning to an array of organizations including the UNFPA.

Twitter - Baroness Sugg

Press release - UNFPA

UK development minister's ongoing refusal to comply with oversight requests "feels like contempt of Parliament", says International Development Committee Chair

Sarah Champion (Chair of the UK's parliamentary International Development Committee) has accused Dominic Raab (Secretary of state for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) of avoiding parliamentary oversight. The Committee members have repeatedly invited Raab to appear before them, but they have been repeatedly met with refusals. The Committee has also been unable to question other senior officials in the newly founded Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FDCO), who have also declined requests to appear.

Champion, in a strongly-worded statement, noted that for as long as the Committee exists to oversee government development assistance spending, ministers "have a duty to be accountable to the Commons. Failure to do so feels like contempt of Parliament".

Her statement comes as she fights for the continued existence of her Committee. The government originally indicated following the merger of the former Department of International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that it would like the Committee to be closed down and its functions merged under the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. However, the decision is ultimately in the hands of the parliament which has yet to vote on the issue. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently stated that he welcomes parliamentary scrutiny of the UK’s development assistance budget and would leave the matter to parliamentarians to decide.

News article - The National

Press release - International Development Committee

UK’s largest civil service trade union expects 20% staff cuts in new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The UK’s largest civil service trade union, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), expects up to 20% of staff cuts in the newly formed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, following the merger of the Department of International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth office, according to Devex.

Devex, which obtained the document produced by PCS, noted that PCS anticipates the cuts to start in November at the director level. While the UK government has insisted there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the merger, the union anticipates that those on fixed-term contracts are the most at risk. The document says that 359 former FCO staff members who are on temporary fixed-term contracts have "missed out on more secure employment" due to the merger, and it highlights that 70% are under the age of 30. The PCS also notes the vulnerability of non-UK nationals.

News article - Devex

UK and Kenya to host Global Partnership for Education (GPE) replenishment in 2021; GPE announces US$5.0 billion funding target

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the UK will co-host, along with Kenya, the fourth Global Partnership for Education (GPE) replenishment in 2021. The meeting will take place in the UK in mid-2021, which will coincide with the UK’s presidency of the G7 next year.  

Since the GPE was created in 2002, it has helped to ensure that 160 million more children went to school and has contributed to doubling girls’ enrollment. The GPE recently announced its target of US$5.0 billion in funding over the next five years.

The Kenyan government has put education at the center of its national development plans and has made significant progress in achieving universal primary education and pursuing gender equality in schooling. The UK’s development assistance also has a strong focus on ensuring girls' education. The UK has helped around 16 million children, over half of which were girls, get a good education. Johnson also recently appointed a Special Envoy for Girls’ Education, Baroness Suggs.

News article - The Telegraph 

News article - Relief Web

Press release - UK government

UK development assistance budget cuts threaten survival of development NGOs

Bond, the UK network for international development NGOs, has launched its latest survey exploring the impact on its members of the COVID-19 crisis and UK development assistance cuts.

The survey reveals a grim picture of falling incomes, staff cuts, and threats to the survival of many NGOs in the near future. Some of the figures in the survey include the following:

  • Only half of Bond's members think they will be operating in two years, with 48% raising grave concerns about their ability to continue to exist in two years. 24% expect to close within the next 12 months. Small and medium-sized organizations are most at risk.
  • Most of the NGOs surveyed (65%) also expect their income to fall in 2021-22, and a quarter of all (25%) organizations surveyed are anticipating significant falls in their income of over 20% in 2021-22.
  • Over 46% of organizations surveyed have already made or are about to make staff reductions as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. 21% of NGOs had to make more than 10% of their workforce redundant.

News article - Bond

UK parliament opens inquiry into how UK ODA tackles secondary impacts of COVID-19 in low-income countries, currently collecting input

The UK parliamentary International Development Committee has announced a new inquiry into how UK official development assistance (ODA) is tackling the secondary impacts of COVID-19 in low-income countries, beyond the immediate impact on people’s health. The inquiry will examine how the ODA is addressing the following impacts of the pandemic on:

  1. Non-COVID-19 health care;
  2. Economy and food security; and
  3. Treatment of women and children.

Written input is welcome until October 26, 2020. The full list of those giving oral evidence will be announced shortly.

News article - UK International Development Committee

US$3.9 billion to be cut from UK development budget in 2021; further cuts "not ruled out"

UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab announced in an interview with The Times, a UK newspaper, that the UK development assistance budget will be cut by £3.0 billion (US$3.9 billion) in 2021.

The government already announced cuts to the development assistance budget in July of £2.9 billion (US$3.8 billion) in 2020. Raab also noted in the interview that the UK will be fully aligning its development spending with UK foreign policy objectives and that while the legislation on UK development assistance allowed for some flexibility on what it would be spent on, the government had not ruled out changes to the legislation to enable maximum flexibility.

In addition to cuts next year, the UK Treasury has also not ruled out further cuts to the budget in 2020. John Glen, a minister to the Treasury, informed parliament that the Treasury would consider further cuts to the UK development assistance budget in 2020 if the UK’s economic situation deteriorates further. The shadow spokespeople on international development for the UK Liberal Democratic Party and Labour Party raised their concerns over potential further cuts to the development assistance budget in 2020.

News article - The Independent

News article - The Times

News article - The Express

UK centers gender equality in international COVID-19 response, 2021 COP26 climate meeting agendas

The UK will put gender equality at the heart of its approach to supporting an international COVID-19 recovery, said UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.

Speaking at the 75th UN General Assembly (UNGA) on October 1, 2020 and on the anniversary of the watershed UN Beijing Declaration on the Status of Women, Raab highlighted the harmful impacts that the COVID-19 crisis has had on gender equality to date, including the surge in gender-based violence and the estimated 20 million girls who are unlikely to return to education.

Raab also noted that the UK will continue to champion twelve years of quality education for every girl in the world and co-lead on the Action Coalition tackling gender-based violence (the Action Coalitions are organized by UN Women). Raab affirmed that the UK will continue to champion women’s rights including their right to access reproductive health, and the government will be using its presidency of the United Nation’s COP26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties, which is the next of the annual global meetings under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) next year to raise attention to how women are being impacted by climate change.

Press release – UK government

UK prime minister announces US$750 million to COVAX Facility, sets out five-point global health security plan

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his address to the 75th UN General Assembly (UNGA) to announce that the UK will be providing £571 million (US$750 million) to the COVAX Facility, an international partnership run by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, to collaborate on COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution.

£500 million (US$656 million) of the funding will be to support access to the vaccine for low- and middle-income countries. The UK is already the largest provider of development assistance to the WHO and Gavi.

Johnson also outlined his government’s five-point plan for a new international approach to global health security, noting that he will use the UK’s presidency of the G7 next year to push for global agreement around the plan. The plan calls for:  

  1. The establishment of a global network of zoonotic research hubs with the objective of identifying dangerous animal pathogens that may cross the species barrier and infect human beings (about 60% of the pathogens circulating in the human population originated in animals and leapt from one species to the other in a ‘zoonotic’ transmission);
  2. The development of global manufacturing capacity for treatments and vaccines for future pandemics that all countries can access in order to enable swift and unified action;
  3. A fully-functioning global pandemic early warning system that is able to alert the world to transmission and share data across countries;
  4. A crisis response system which has all the protocols ready for coordinated emergency response across all countries; and
  5. An end to export controls wherever possible on essential goods for fighting pandemics (and an agreement to not revive the controls).

Press release – UK government

UK Treasury postpones autumn budget announcement, but Comprehensive Spending Review will take place

The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced on September 22, 2020, that the planned November budget would be postponed, in light of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic within the United Kingdom. The budget process will likely take place early next year.  

The Comprehensive Spending Review, which had aimed to set four-year budgets for UK government departments, is set to still go ahead in November, but will now likely be for one year only.

Sunak is now focused on setting out a series of measures to protect jobs and to get the economy through the winter period.

News article - The Guardian

News article - Public Finance

UK government publishes 2019 development assistance spending statistics

The UK government has released its annual statistics on its official development assistance (ODA) spending for 2019. The statistics show that the UK spent £15,197 million (US$19,961 million) on ODA in 2019, a 4.4% increase from 2018. This amounts to 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income, in line with the UK's international development commitment. Other key statistics include:

  • UK bilateral ODA amounted to £10,258 million (US$13,473 million) or 67.5% of total UK ODA, with the rest provided as core funding to multilaterals (£4,939 million (US$6.487 million)). The share of UK ODA disbursed bilaterally has increased since 2019. This reflects the uneven disbursement of core-funding to multilateral organizations as well as a real increase in bilateral resources.
  • The Department for International Development (DFID) continues to spend the majority of UK ODA – disbursing 74.9% in 2019 or £11,107 million (US$14,588 million) of ODA. However, while this is an increase in volume compared to 2018, the share of ODA disbursed by the DFID compared to other government departments has marginally decreased.
  • In terms of UK region-specific bilateral ODA in 2019, the African continent continues to be the largest recipient – accounting for 50.6%. In volume, the share of bilateral ODA increased by 4.4% between 2018 and 2019, with the majority of the increase spent on the health sector and with South Sudan receiving the largest country-specific increase.
  • The UK’s top three recipients of bilateral country-specific ODA were Pakistan (£305 million (US$400 million)), Ethiopia (£300 million (US$394 million)), and Afghanistan (£292 million (US$383 million)).
  • The largest amount of bilateral ODA was focused on Humanitarian Aid (£1,536 million (US$2,017 million)), followed by Health (£1,431 million (US$1,879 million)), and Multisector/Cross-Cutting (£1,325 million (US$1,740 million)) sectors.

Report – Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

UK launches new COP26 Energy Transition Council, announces US$66 million for new Clean Energy Innovation Facility

As his role as UN COP26 president, Alok Sharma (UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) has announced the creation of a new COP26 Energy Transition Council which aims to bring together global political, financial, and technical leaders from the power sector with the aim to accelerate the transition to clean energy in low-income countries. COP26 refers to the 26th Conference of the Parties, which is the next of the annual global meetings under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Sharma will co-chair the COP26 Energy Transition Council along with Damilola Ogunbiyi, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL). The UK is hosting COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in November of 2021, postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharma also announced that the UK will be providing £50 million (US$66 million) of UK development assistance to a new Clean Energy Innovation Facility (CEIF). This funding will come under the UK’s International Climate Finance. The CEIF aims to support low-income countries to more easily access innovative clean energy technologies to foster clean growth; it will focus on industry, cooling, smart energy, and storage.

Press release - UK government

Friends of COVAX Facility issue joint statement calling for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine

Member countries of the Friends of the COVAX Facility (FOF) issued a joint statement that called for equitable, fair, and affordable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for all.

The COVAX Facility has made it a goal to deliver two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by 2021 and is managing the largest, most diverse vaccine portfolio. Members of FOF will also support other global health initiatives including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the World Health Organization (WHO); and the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to operationalize the facility.

Stressing the importance of collective and bold efforts to end the global pandemic, FOF concluded by calling for other countries to join the global work towards vaccine multilateralism.

Press release – European Union

UK government accepts all recommendations from development assistance watchdog on improving UK support to African Development Bank

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has accepted all of the recommendations made by the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI) on improving UK support to the African Development Bank (ADB).  

The FDCO partially accepted ICAI’s recommendation for the UK to minimize its unilateral reform interventions, given that these can undermine the multilateral nature of governing these institutions. In 2017, the UK included a performance tranche as part of its core replenishment funding to the African Development Fund (the concessional arm of the ADB) in a drive to improve the Fund’s performance in key areas where it had been struggling.

The UK government has responded noting that while it will continue to link its funding to reforms in key partners, it accepts that the approach it adopted caused problems with their relationship with the ADB management. Under the current replenishment round, the UK will provide its core contributions in line with financial obligations and will provide an additional incentive tranche of funding conditional on performance targets agreed by management and all donors.

The UK government accepted ICAI’s recommendation that it needed to take a broader view on value for money beyond just cost-to-income ratios and focus more on areas of understaffing. The UK government noted that while discipline needed to be maintained and technology could be better used to reduce administrative costs, the Board at the Bank had agreed in December of 2019 on an increase in the administrative budget in recognition of areas where capacity was weak.

The UK also accepted the recommendations to ensure social and environmental safeguards are upheld, to support the Bank in the management of Trust Funds, and to more fully utilize synergies on the ground between ADB and UK development projects.  

Report - FCDO

Report - ICAI

New NGO report calls to overturn cuts to UK development assistance for basic health services

A new report by Action for Global Health, a coalition of UK NGOs, is urging the UK government to reverse its trend of declining funding to support basic health services in the poorest countries.

The report, which praises the UK’s leadership internationally on global health, highlights that UK development assistance funding has fallen over time when measured as a share of overall UK development budget. The UK spent 15% of its development assistance budget on global health in 2018, down from 20% in 2013. The report particularly notes the dramatic fall in funding to basic health services which has fallen in volume by nearly half - from £230 million (US$302 million) in 2013 to less than £150 million (US$197 million) in 2018. The report argues that this funding is critical and is key to achieving the UK government’s goals of eliminating child and maternal mortality.

The report is also concerned that global health, beyond the COVID-19 crisis, is not a priority for the government’s new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The report argues that the UK Secretary for State for Foreign Affairs, Dominic Raab, when outlining the new department's priorities to Parliament early this year, did not mention the UK’s broader global health goals and instead focused on poverty reduction, climate change, girls’ education, COVID-19, and media and religious freedom. The report calls for the government to put global health at the heart of the FCDO and calls on the UK government to publish a new global health strategy that clearly sets out the UK's aims on global health in the coming years and provides a road map for funding priorities. The UK’s last global health strategy was created in 2013.

Report – Action for Global Health

News article – The Telegraph