International Development

Should the British be happy with the work of DfID?

In recent years they have immunised 67.1m children against preventable disease, reached 64.5m people with at least one of water, sanitation or hygiene promotion and supported 11.3m children in primary and lower secondary education (DfID Dev Tracker). But should the British public be happy with, or even proud of the work of the Government’s Department for International Development (DfID)?

DfID and UK aid logos

It was the Liberal Democrats who brought the bill for the UN’s target of 0.7% of GNI to be spent of foreign aid to the British Parliament, which has been met for the last 3 years (The Week, May 2016). This seemingly minute proportion of our country’s income is  actually 5th in the world by percentage and 2nd to the US in value, so I would say that we are doing pretty well in the aid spending league tables. But considering that only 5 countries are meeting the UN target it starts to beg the question of why other countries, especially those who are highly developed, are not doing the same? Are there/should there be punishments for countries who don’t meet the target?

Aside from the UN target, there is a domestic debate around whether Britain should increase, reduce or continue current levels of foreign aid spending, which is organised through DfID as ODA (Official Development Assistance). To put foreign aid spending into context 8.8% of GDP in 2013 was spent on Healthcare (ONS) and 2.2% of GDP in 2014/15 was spent on Defence ( Personally, I think it is important to get the balance right between helping those in our own country and abroad. Although we can say that British citizens are much wealthier on average than those in less developed countries, there are still plenty people in need on our doorsteps; Britain currently has 1.66m unemployed, whole families who rely on Food Banks, and is still recovering from the economic downturn of 2008 and the government austerity which followed. At the same time, I feel it is our duty to try to reduce global inequality – often referred to as the North-South Divide – to create a more equal post-colonial world.

It has been found that the majority of the British public would like the Government to spend more on foreign aid, and in fact are shocked at the small proportion of GNI spent on it, as shown in the video UK Aid: View from the streets (YouTube video) .

But if we agree on how much is spent, do we agree on how and where it is spent?

I was somewhat surprised to learn that Pakistan is the top receiver of DfID aid at £414.83m, while Syria id 5th, receiving £181.86m. I asked myself why I was so surprised; was it because I expected the UK to send the most aid to the countries I hear most about on the news? I then questioned whether there are problems in Pakistan that we should be more aware of, or if DfID have got their priorities wrong? We would hope not.

The biggest share by sector is spent on Disaster, followed by Health, then Education, but is DfID’s top achievements are Health and Education related what does Disaster spending achieve? Perhaps it is unfair to be so critical of disaster spending, as it will usually be unplanned emergency aid with the aim of keeping people alive and helping them rebuild their lives. It is also extremely difficult to gather data following a disaster, so it would be unrealistic to expect published statistics about numbers of people saved from the rubble after an earthquake, for example. Also, in the current situation of “climate change, urban migration, population growth and increased scarcity of natural resources”(DfID Defining Disaster Resilience) we can only expect disasters to be more frequent and more intense.

Returning to Pakistan for a moment,

“[t]he UK is already helping to build resilience to disasters. Following the catastrophic Pakistan floods of 2010, for example, we are helping communities and national authorities prepare for future events. This includes: developing safety plans in schools and communities; helping farmers to use crops that can cope with flooding; and providing communities with the skills and tools they need to maintain their food self-sufficiency.”(DfID Defining Disaster Resilience)

This begins to explain why British Taxpayers’ money is important to Pakistan, although we hear little about on the news. Therefore, it is important not to jump to conclusions about where our money is best spent based on media coverage, but instead to do some research and be more open-minded.

DfID do a lot of good work, it must be said, and I have struggled to find substantial faults with their work yet. When examining their accounts of August 2016 (DfID August 2016 accounts) I raised an eyebrow at the number of entries for travel expenses, assuming lots of money was being wasted here. But when compared to the total spending for August, travel makes up less than 1%.

Let me leave you with one final question: Should DfID be held to account on exactly where their 33.42% of  “Unallocated” spending goes?


DevTracker by sector

DevTracker by country

DfID and UK aid logos

DfID annual accounts 2015/6

DfID August 2016 accounts

DfID Defining Disaster Resilience

DfID official website defence spending

Official DfID blog

ONS healthcare spending

ONS unemployment

Provisional UK ODA as proportion of GNI 2015

The Week, May 2016

UK Aid: View from the streets video

UN Millennium Project, The 0.7% target: An in-depth look


“What actually is development?” I hear you ask

In this post I will attempt to breakdown ‘Development’, a word which has become more widely used in recent years, while seeming to escape clear definition.




There are many different types of development, from personal development and business development, to property development and research development. So broadly speaking, development is dependent upon perspective and the things an individual or organisation wishes to achieve. But ‘International Development’ has its own, more specific meaning. All I had to do to see this difference was to search for my header image for this post online. I started by typing ‘Development’ into the image search engine (‘Development’ image search), and after realising I wasn’t getting anywhere then searched ‘International Development’ (‘International Development’ image search). So what was I met with then? Countless pictures of globes, world maps, and stereotypical images of African women and children in rural and agricultural landscapes. The image I chose from this rather unhelpful yet predictable bunch can be seen above. I was drawn to this image because I feel that it illustrates a clear message about development, which is that the world is in the hands of everybody (although there could be something to say about these hands being of a white person) and that it is therefore the responsibility of everyone to help make global change.

Before I started to look more deeply at development, this was my personal definition: ‘The improvement in standard of living such that inequality between rich and poor is reduced, while managing and reducing the effects of climate change and preserving the environment for future generations.’ However, the image above and my reading of some of Robert Chambers’ work has emphasised to me that ‘Development’ should not just be interpreted on a broad global scale, but as a personal, everyday issue no matter who we are or where we live. In ‘Responsible Well-Being – A Personal Agenda for Development’, Chambers argues that to add the personal element to development we must take part in “critical self-examination”. He continues by saying that before attempting to “do better” we must first understand ourselves; “how our ideas are formed, how we think, how we change, and what we do and do not do.” Later on in the same editorial, Chambers cites ‘The Human Development Report’ (1997) and the ‘World Development Report’ (1997) for their lack of emphasis on “the need for personal change” within their recommendations for development.


Responsible well-being, on the other hand, is a concept which “puts the personal in the centre”. The phrase originates from the participatory rural appraisal (PRA) scheme and its “locally defined concepts of well-being, and personal responsibility”. I personally agree with Robert Chambers that the wealthy and powerful – especially the development policy makers of today – must take on the position of responsible well-being, to help improve the lives of the unheard and the poor. That is the means of ensuring development today.


Header image

Chambers, Robert (1997) ‘Responsible Well-being: A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, Vol. 25(11):1743-1754