Scrap foreign aid target, peers tell govt

By Oliver Hotham

The government should drop its commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on development aid, peers have said.

The recommendations, released by the Lords' economic affairs committee, say that implementing such a target prioritises money spent over results achieved.

The committee also suggested that raising the amount Britain pledges to development could risk making the achievement of the target more important that the programme's effectiveness.

Chair of the committee Lord MacGregor emphasised that the committee was not opposed to humanitarian aid, but that development aid should be made more fiscally accountable.

"We were unanimous in our view that legislation for a 0.7% target for overall aid spending is inappropriate and that the government should reconsider the target itself," he said.

"We believe that development aid should be judged by the criteria of effectiveness and value for money, not by whether a specific arbitrary spending target is reached."

The government is planning to introduce legislation which would increase Britain's aid commitments from 0.56% of GNI to 0.7%, a 37% real terms increase.

International development secretary Andrew Mitchell said that reducing aid targets could "cost lives" and defended the proposed increased as part of the British government's commitment to helping the very poor.

Labour also rushed to defend the proposed new target, saying it represented Britain's consistent efforts in the fight against global poverty.

"We must also recognise that today's developing countries are tomorrow’s trading partners for Britain," Labour's shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis said.

Philanthropists and charities have also expressed concerns about the committee's statements, with Christian Aid going so far as to call the demand to drop the new target a "betrayal".

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also criticised the committee's recommendations. It said a reduction of Britain's aid would risk undermining the work British aid has accomplished in the past decade, including involvement in the fight against malaria and HIV.

But the committee also voiced a frequent concern about development aid – the amount lost to political corruption in recipient countries.

The committee expressed scepticism about the official figures of how much aid is lost to fraud.