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An efficient, effective and ethical use of public money? International Development Committee to examine use of UK aid spending to support in-country refugees

The House of Commons International Development Committee has launched an inquiry into whether use of the aid budget to support refugees in the UK is an efficient, effective and ethical use of public money. This is a good opportunity for Scottish organisations and individuals to have their say, so the Alliance urges our members to respond to this inquiry by sending any views to by 9th December, in order for us to consolidate them and forward on to the International Development Committee.

The Chair of the Committee, Sarah Champion MP, said: 

“Our Committee scrutinises the Government’s spending on official development assistance – wherever and however it is spent. The more money given to domestic ministerial departments to meet refugee needs here in the UK, the less there is available for the Government’s stated priorities for international development. The UK’s aid budget is already constrained with a freeze on all non-essential aid. Transparency and accountability is essential and this inquiry will look across government departments to understand how this aid is being spent and who might lose out as the balance shifts from the world’s poorest people to the UK’s internal priorities.” 

The Government’s aid spending on refugees within the UK is to be examined in a new inquiry by the International Development Committee. The inquiry will consider whether spending in this way from the aid budget, known as Official Development Assistance (ODA), is an efficient, effective and ethical use of public money. 

In November 2020, the Government  cut the amount available to the UK to spend on international development from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) as a “temporary measure” while the Government took steps to balance the books following the pandemic.  In July 2021, the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out the ‘responsible fiscal circumstances’ under which the aid budget would be restored to 0.7 per cent , pending annual reviews against fiscal forecasts.  A restoration of the aid budget is not expected for several years.  

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has highlighted the ‘significant pressures’ on the ODA budget from accepting refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine as well as wider migration challenges. Concern is growing that the reduced ODA funding will be routed away from the world’s poorest people as the Government allocates funds to different domestic ministerial departments to support refugees in the UK. 

The Government is not technically breaking international aid rules by using ODA in this way. Countries are allowed to spend foreign aid on the domestic costs of refugees and asylum seekers, but only for the first 12 months. However, the UK appears to be unique among the world’s largest donor countries in counting all of its in-country support for Ukrainian refugees as ODA. Recent media reports suggest the Government is on course to spend more on aid in the UK than on humanitarian help in the world’s poorest countries.  

Setting out the Government’s new strategy for international development last May, the then Foreign Secretary Liz Truss  stressed the link between development work and UK foreign policy.  Four priorities were identified: concentrating on reliable investment; providing women and girls with the freedom they need to succeed; the provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance and the UK’s commitments on climate change, nature and global health.  

The deadline for written evidence is 15 December 2022.

The Committee invites written evidence on the following: 

  • What proportion and sum of the overall aid budget (a) has been since 2015, (b) is and (c) is planned to be expended on supporting refugees in the UK; 
  • What goods and services to support refugees in the UK have been purchased using the aid budget; 
  • How the use of the aid budget to support refugees in the UK relates to OECD guidance on development spending; 
  • What effect the use of the aid budget to support refugees in the UK has had on the delivery and maintenance of UK-funded programmes in low-income countries; 
  • Whether spending from the aid budget to support refugees in the UK is an (a) efficient, (b) effective and (c) ethical use of public money; 
  • How the FCDO and other Government Departments work together to allocate, account for and control aid expenditure in the UK; and 
  • Whether the use of the aid budget to support refugees in the UK is sufficiently transparent to facilitate scrutiny by Parliament, taxpayers and civil society. 

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