A new report by Development Initiatives, an international development data organization based in the UK, has warned that the planned merger of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) could shift the focus of the UK's official development assistance (ODA) away from poverty, gender, and fragile states. It also raises concerns about declining transparency as a result of the merger.
The report draws on data analysis of ODA spending allocation over the last five years by the FCO and DFID to examine how a greater alignment of UK ODA spending with foreign policy objectives might impact on future UK ODA allocations.
The analysis revealed stark differences in spending patterns across the two departments:
- The FCO allocated 78% of its ODA to middle-income countries between 2014-2018 and 74% of its ODA over the to countries where less than 5% of the population lived in extreme poverty. In stark contrast, DFID allocated 61% of its ODA to countries where over 20% of the population live in extreme poverty, and over half of its ODA to low-income and least developed countries.
- The FCO allocated less than half of its ODA (41%) to fragile states. In contrast, 88% of DFID ODA went to fragile states.
- The FCO does not report on how much of its ODA is allocated to supporting gender equality. In contrast, gender equality is an important priority for DFID with over 61% of its ODA going to projects focused on gender equality in 2018.
- In 2020 an assessment by Publish What You Fund, an independent assessor of development assistance transparency, deemed the FCO's transparency ‘fair’, while DFID ranked among the most transparent donors in the EU and third most transparent in the world.
The report recommends that the UK legislation which requires UK ODA to be allocated for poverty reduction and gender equality, which currently only applies to DFID and not to other spending departments, be applied to all ODA spending by all departments. The report also recommends maintaining DFID expertise within the new department and establishing a new cross-government ODA committee.