The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) first strategy paper on overseas assistance since the merged department was formed and large-scale cuts were implemented in 2020, has been condemned as a “double whammy to the world’s poor”.
It is dominated by a near halving of UK aid to multilateral bodies, including the UN the World Bank, and a renewed focus on aid as an adjunct to trade.
The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, claimed that reliable private sector investments will challenge “malign actors” and bring countries into the orbit of free market economies, a clear reference to the challenge posed by China’s large aid programme.
The 20-page development paper sets out the high-level goal of cutting the proportion of UK aid going to multilateral bodies from 40% of the budget to 25% by 2025.
The UK aid budget has been cut by £4bn since 2020. The UK has already cut £1.5bn from a World Bank programme to help poor countries recover from Covid.
Sarah Champion, chair of the Commons international development committee, said: “The foreign secretary’s strategy has two main thrusts. It advocates aid for trade – linking the provision of aid to access for UK goods and services. And it says more of our money should go on direct government-to-government spending rather than spending through international bodies such as the United Nations. I fear that adds up to a double whammy against the global poor.” She added: “Supporting the poorest in the world should not be conditional on a trade deal or agreeing to investment partnerships. The UK has rightly been hugely critical of China for such an approach, so I fail to see why we are following down the same road. It is depressing and disappointing that the UK would devise a strategy like this.”