A development campaign group founded by Bono has accused the UK government of wasting a large chunk of its international aid budget and called for spending on overseas assistance to be cut by £1.6bn.
In a report that echoes criticisms by some Conservative MPs, the U2 singer’s One campaign said there was too much spending on projects that failed to reduce poverty.
The campaign, which was founded by Bono and the activist Bobby Shriver in 2004, said the forthcoming recession as a result of the Covid-19 crisis meant the aid budget was bound to shrink and it was important that the least effective schemes be cut so that spending could be focused in areas such as health and education.
It comes as a separate report from the charity Save the Children said Covid-19 had led to a $77bn (£61bn) cut in spending on education that could result in almost 10 million children never returning to school.
Britain is one of the few countries to meet the UN target of allocating 0.7% of national income on international aid – a commitment that resulted in spending of just over £15bn last year.
Most of the aid budget has until now been dispensed by the Department for International Development, but last month Boris Johnson said DfID would be folded into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and come under the control of the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.
Romilly Greenhill, the UK director of One, said: “As cuts become unavoidable, the UK aid budget will have to do more with less, but the impact of this should not be on the world’s poorest. This is the foreign secretary’s first test as the minister who will soon be in charge of the largest chunk of aid. To ensure he’s cutting correctly, he’ll need to use a surgeon’s scalpel and not a gardener’s scythe.”
One’s Real Aid Index found that DfID spent almost £11bn of the the UK aid budget in 2018 and scored highly for its poverty focus, its effectiveness and transparency. The Foreign Office, which spent £600m, was deemed weak for poverty focus and moderate for effectiveness and transparency.
Among the wasteful items of spending identified by the One report were:
£21m spent by the Home Office on preventing migration and smuggling, with no information about how it would help reduce poverty.
£92m spent by the business department on the “Newton Fund”, which develops science and innovation partnerships. One said this money was in effect tied aid that targeted richer countries, and had been criticised by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.
£287m spent on frontline diplomatic spending by the Foreign Office, which covered part of the costs of British diplomatic work in developing countries.
£7m spent on the FCO’s western Balkans programme, which provides limited information on how money is being spent or the results achieved. One said this was worrying in light of the prime minister’s desire to see more spent in that region.
£20m on China’s Prosperity Fund programme, which aims to “produce commercial benefits for international companies, including UK business”.
£58m spent on the Chevening Scholarship Fund, which One said was in effect tied to UK institutions and only open to students with a bachelor’s degree, who were rarely the most marginalised.
£36m spent on the Prosperity Fund’s global trade programme, which targeted middle-income countries and aimed to bolster UK trade.
£18m spent on the Iraqi Governance and Resilience programme.