Abbott criticises UK government for “hijacking” aid spending

6 Jun 16

The British government was slammed this weekend for “hijacking” aid to bankroll big business, military and anti-immigration policies.

Speaking at a national gathering of campaign group Global Justice Now in London on Saturday, Diane Abbott, who speaks on international development issues for the opposition Labour party, said that the UK government is using aid money to fill the coffers of western big business rather than to provide health and education for millions of people.

“The slide towards using aid to subsidise British business and as a slush fund [to] top up its military and security budgets means that development projects devoted to public health, education and countering climate change will suffer,” she said.

The UK’s Department of International Development has come under fire in recent years for its increasing use of for-profit, British contractors and the House of Commons international development committee began an inquiry into the issue today.

The European Union’s development committee is also to vote on whether to accept a review criticising aid initiatives that critics say has been promoting western agribusiness in Africa at the expense of smallholder farmers. DFID contributed £600m to the initiative.

One for-profit firm, Adam Smith International, has won at least £450m of UK aid-funded contracts since 2011 and received nearly £90m in funds from DFID in 2014 alone, according to a report by GJN.

The group pointed out that this is more than the entire amount spend on human rights and women’s equality organisations, and almost twice that spent on programmes to tackle sexually transmitted diseases.

The report also criticised DFID for pushing a free market ideology on developing countries that had only served to entrench poverty – a point Abbott also spoke to on Saturday.

“Using the language of ‘prosperity’ and ‘economic opportunity’, the government spins the dubious argument that communities in the world’s poorest nations share the interests of both UK business and the UK state.”

Last year, UK chancellor George Osborne announced a new strategy for UK aid, which drew criticism for its requirement that all aid spend must support the UK’s national interests abroad.

In an interview with Public Finance earlier this year, Abbott also accused the government of “conning” the British public by spending the country’s aid budget for military and defence purposes.

She was speaking out against a decision by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee to class some military and defence spending as official overseas aid, or Official Development Assistance (ODA) – a change the UK government lobbied for.

Abbott said that departments like the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would use aid money to fund activities they used to have to pay for out of their own budgets – which she dubbed a “sleight of hand”.

Numerous commentators, including the United Nation Development Programme administrator Helen Clarke, have warned such changes will divert aid away from where it is most needed.

Abbot also warned that, unlike DFID, the UK’s MoD and FCO are not well-known for transparency in the way funds are spent.

On Saturday she said: “It is not for no reason that the refrain “can we ODA that?” is now common in the corridors of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – departments that can also claim national security to cover up any embarrassing aid expenditure.”

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