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The UK government is scrapping its international aid department – here’s why that matters

Written by Tearfund | 17 Jun 2020

Plans to abolish the UK’s international aid department were revealed this week. This is a move that could spell disaster for people living in poverty. Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening, why it matters, and how you can pray about it.

What’s going on?
On Tuesday 15 June, Boris Johnson announced that the Department for International Development (DFID) will be merged with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). The new department, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, will be set up in early September and will be led by the Foreign Secretary.

What exactly do DFID and the FCO do?
For more than 20 years, DFID has managed the UK’s aid budget, which is used to tackle global extreme poverty and provide life-saving assistance following disasters – such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and during public health crises like Ebola and coronavirus. It has a positive reputation globally for delivering value for money and impact with transparency.

The FCO plays a key role in promoting the UK’s national interests on a global level. It does this in several ways; by supporting UK citizens and businesses around the world, promoting and investing in opportunities for UK exports, and safeguarding the UK’s national security through countering terrorism and reducing conflict.

While both DFID and FCO play international roles, their goals are very different.

Is DFID not a waste of taxpayers money?
Currently UK Aid represents a very small proportion of our national income – just 7p out of every £10 the nation earns. It is possible to tackle both the need in the UK and around the world.

‘DFID has played a vital role in transforming communities and saving lives in some of the poorest and hardest to reach places in the world.’

UK aid has provided vaccinations to more than 67 million children in the last five years, protecting them against preventable diseases. It has given 11.3 million children access to education, enabling them the chance to build a better life for themselves. It has helped 12 million people gain access to clean energy. And it has also provided life-saving support and assistance to communities devastated by natural disasters – such as the Nepal earthquakes in 2015.

DFID is kept accountable through regular reporting, evaluation, and scrutiny through independent bodies. In an independent assessment by Publish What You Fund, DFID was found to be the most effective, transparent and accountable department for every pound of UK taxpayer money.

What effect will merging the two departments have?
The UK government has a long-standing commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of its national income on international aid. This positions the UK as world leaders in development. As an independent department, DFID can make sure this budget is spent in tackling extreme poverty, report transparently on where this money is spent, and openly evaluate the effectiveness of its work.

This merger risks that UK Aid may be put towards other purposes, such as UK foreign policy, and commercial and political objectives. There is a lack of clarity currently around what new accountability measures – and how transparent they will be – on how UK aid money is spent and reported on.

‘Globally, this move suggests that we are turning our backs on the world’s poorest people. For people struggling to survive extreme poverty, climate change and coronavirus, this is terrible timing.’

What has been Tearfund’s response?
Tearfund has expressed publicly the deep concerns we have over this planned merger. We have also joined with other leading UK charities in asking the prime minister to protect UK Aid and stop this merger.

As part of a statement released to the press, Tearfund CEO Nigel Harris said the following: ‘With its dedicated focus on poverty alleviation, DFID has helped to transform the lives of millions living in extreme poverty. It is vital that future aid spending on behalf of the people of the UK continues to deliver with the same level of transparency, accountability and impact for those living in poverty as DFID has consistently done. Now is not the time for the UK to lower its standards on aid.

‘Tearfund remains committed to working with the UK government to help lift people out of economic, environmental and spiritual poverty. It is my heartfelt prayer that we will continue to see the UK Aid budget focused on fighting poverty and providing life-saving assistance to those in desperate need.’

How can I pray for this?
Please will you join us in praying for the merger to be stopped and for the world’s poorest people to be protected. Feel free to share this prayer in your church small groups and with your colleagues and friends.


Lord God,

We pray for this planned merger between DFID and the FCO to be stopped. We lift up to you the prime minister, and other leaders who are making this decision, and we pray that you will grant them wisdom. Remind them of your love for the poor.

Lord, we ask that the UK’s aid budget will be protected, and will always be used to help people in extreme poverty. We pray that the world’s poorest people will not be forgotten.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

If you want to take further action, you can join us in asking the prime minister to ensure that UK Aid continues to prioritise those who need it most. Find out more here.

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Written by  Tearfund

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