Catholic aid agencies have cautiously welcomed a Government White Paper on International Development, whilst urging the Government, under new Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron, to restore the 0.7% spend of national income on overseas aid.
The UK Government published ‘International development in a contested world ending extreme poverty and tacking climate change’ earlier this week-the first of its kind since 2009.
Former Prime Minister Lord Cameron said he would “put development right back at the heart” of the Foreign Office (FCDO), adding that it was his “moral mission” to help the world’s poorest.
As Prime Minister, Lord Cameron legislated to ensure the UK would always give a minimum of 0.7% of GDP on aid-a key aspect of his “compassionate Conservatism”.
The White Paper fails to restore the target to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, after the budget was cut to 0.5% by Mr Sunak when he was chancellor amid economic pressures in 2021, which SCIAF, the Scottish Catholic Church’s official relief and development agency, criticised.
“The paper fails to set out the full scale of reforms needed to challenge the unjust structures which perpetuate global inequality,” Ben Wilson, SCIAF’s Head of Advocacy, said.
“Much more is needed on debt cancellation, cracking down on tax evasion and global trade reform. Ultimately, we need a return to our legally binding 0.7% commitments to aid.”
The White Paper’s priorities include mobilising international finance, reforming the international system, tackling climate change, harnessing innovation and putting women and girls centre stage.
SCIAF said it ‘cautiously welcomes the UK Government’s White Paper on International Development as a positive shift, acknowledging its renewed focus on global challenges.’
“However, we have significant concerns about the paper’s limitations, particularly in addressing Loss and Damage,” Mr Wilson said.
With COP28 approaching, SCIAF said that the paper ‘lacks the transformative ambition needed for the UK to genuinely combat global injustice.’
Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD, praised the ‘timely’ nature of the steps outlined in the White paper.
“The commitment to ending extreme poverty, tackling climate change and delivering over half of UK aid to the lowest income countries is welcomed, and especially timely as we approach COP28.” Mr Thorns said.
“Equally, the UK’s move to actively partner globally within the multilateral system and to increase the voice of low-income countries is a positive step. The commitment to listen and support local organisations is very welcome as we know it’s often those local faith groups who are first responders in a crisis.”
Mr Thorns warned that the needs of ‘smallholder farmers’ may be missed with the focus on ‘new technologies.’
“The white paper lacks an overall strategy for food systems transformation. The focus on new technologies and innovation potentially misses the needs of smallholder farmers, particularly seed technologies and genomics. Any new policy frameworks must ensure these farmers can participate in developing, and can access, useful technologies,” he said, adding that the Government should ‘reconsider’ its 20% investment in fossil fuels.
International development minister Andrew Mitchell described the White Paper as ‘our pledge to take a patient, partnership-based approach to development. An approach that looks ahead to the longer-term challenges we face, and can readily adapt to the ongoing global changes confronting us.’
Sarah Champion, the Labour chairwoman of the International Development Committee, said the ideas in the paper ‘offer hope of a real reset and refresh for the UK on the international development stage.’ However, she said, the cuts to the aid budget mean ‘we’re going to be running to catch up with the impact of our own aid budget cuts.’
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