10 May 2012

Are we Letting the 0.7% Target Become a Distraction?

If anyone had any faint hope that legislation to enshrine the UK's commitment to the 0.7% ODA target would make it into the Queen's speech (and therefore into Parliament's business in the next year) the UK local elections last week put paid to that.  

The Conservative Party did poorly in those elections, and this did not exactly help Andrew Mitchell's efforts to make good on his promises.  The non-appearance of the 0.7 Bill in the Queen's speech was widely trailed and so the critics were well primed. 

But are we too obsessed with the 0.7?  Yes, it is a clear and meaningful commitment, but it is ironic that many of us are saying on the one hand that DFID cannot handle its increasing spend, in more fragile contexts, while demonstrating impact, with fewer staff and, on the other hand, that it should rapidly increase its spend.  

Personally, I am content with a steady, measured increase in the quantity of aid. What I want to see is an improvement in the quality of aid.  And that includes wanting to see DFID play more of an influencing role on places like the World Bank and the IMF to get them thinking more seriously about the quality of growth.  

But perhaps even more importantly I want to see a greater contribution from the whole of the UK Government to global development--what are other ministries doing on climate, trade, security, diplomacy, tax havens, intellectual property and the like?  

CGD has led the way on this with their Commitment to Development Index and in the coming months Matthew Lockwood and I will be doing some more in depth work on the extent of the UK's whole of government approach to development. I will report on this as things progress.   

ODA is 1% of UK government expenditure.  Let's not forget about the other 99% and what it could do for global development.  


Jeneral28 said...

Actually, CGD also pointed out that 0.7% is an outdated target, and more a political promise. I'm all for 0.7% , but the fixation on this old target dissuades the focus on say aid effectiveness, the impact of aid, aid recipients etc.

Thus your entry is spot on.


Simon Wright said...

Totally agree that effectiveness of aid is really important as just spending on inappropriate projects driven by donor fashions does more harm than good. But having a target has helped to increase UK aid and to keep the Conservatives increasing aid when they usually cut it. If we could get other donors to move towards 0.7 it would make a big difference. So let's not be too dismissive, although whether in legislation or not is less important than that it is achieved.

Jeneral28 said...


I agree the chase for the 0.7% target is alright but it doesn't directly mean that a decrease in aid would affect development directly. That is the mantra coming from groups like ONE who say that any decrease in aid would result in deaths of children, women etc. Statistically, I don't see that to be accurate at all--how do you equate one country's aid to the lives of others? Where are the exact calculations? Less aid could in fact be better as it hones more on effectiveness--is aid targeted at the right groups, countries, format (grants or loans) etc? Also not forgeting if the UK GDP decreases, 0.7% would mean less aid.

Support 0.7% yes, but place aid effectiveness first.

Lawrence Haddad said...

Thanks both,,,but you are still essentially arguing about 1% of UK government spending--admittedly is is dedicated to development (for the most part) and the other 99% is not, but if we could increase the potency of even a small fraction of the 99% for development, might that not be even more transformative and sustainable for our development partners? Of course, how to do that is not straightforward...

Jeneral28 said...

Ok, last I heard, overall UK flows (OA and ODA) amount to more than 1% of GNI/GDP already. Increasing to 0.7% would make it enormous (but again depending on the GNI) but it will not automatically save lives nor create the magical end to development.

Ideally, it should be an increase (but not to a target) of overall aid, but a refocus on aid's impact (as argued at the start in Lawrence's post)--especially on multilateral contributions. You may reach 0.7%, but x/100 of the 0.7% is not controlled by the donor directly. Is it well spent?

Simon Wright said...

Still agreeing. Aid is a very tiny factor in whether a government can make the changes it needs in health, hunger or economic development. The influence of donors far outweighs the value of their aid contributions. But it could and should be strategic and catalytic if used well, in line with Paris Principles, and does not undermine national capacity (which happens a lot of the time). Campaigning to change UK policies that are keeping poverty is vital. I am not sure I am yet ready to say that campaigning for aid is a distraction; I hope it is part of looking at the broader policy context.

Lawrence Haddad said...

Simon, I'm definitely not advocating stopping campaigning for aid, but perhaps to be less mesmerised by it (hard to do, I admit, because it is so focused). Best, Lawrence

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