Scrapping the Department for International Development would risk undermining the global fight against the coronavirus, MPs have warned Boris Johnson.
In a new report, the Commons International Development Committee said the foreign aid department should stay independent and represented by its own Cabinet minister, and they warned that the "significant impact" of Covid-19 on developing countries meant now was not the time to "impair the effectiveness of aid" by ordering a Whitehall shake-up.
Boris Johnson had been expected to axe the department following his election victory in December, having previously backed a report which argued for DfID to be merged with the Foreign Office for the first time since the 1990s.
But the department was spared the axe in January, with the PM instead opting to focus on improving performance across existing departments. The reshuffle that month created an entirely joint ministerial team, which has sparked concern about whether the department may be abolished in future.
In their report today, MPs said it was now “imperative” that DfID be allowed to continue in an independent form if the UK is to help end extreme poverty and that the department has “an excellent reputation around the world”.
The government currently spends 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance, which aims to bolster the economy and welfare of developing countries, with programmes spread across several departments.
The committee said concerns had been raised that other departments were “failing to target their aid spend sufficiently towards poverty reduction” and called for a review of ODA spending across government.
Chair Sarah Champion said: “We have heard glowing reviews of DfID’s work helping the world’s poorest, and it is clear that it stands head and shoulders above other ODA-spending departments.
“We are not convinced that all ODA programmes administered outside of DfID are properly targeted towards poverty reduction or the most vulnerable. Given the enormity of the UK’s aid budget, it is particularly shocking that transparency remains a huge problem that government departments are failing to grapple.”
MPs argued a change in the machinery of government now would “impair the effectiveness of aid”, including spending on tackling coronavirus, which has claimed more than 400,000 lives globally.
They also called for ministers to publish the UK aid strategy ahead of the planned spending review and integrated defence and foreign affairs review “to ensure the UK’s aid outputs are based on strategic planning rather than fitting around Whitehall budgets”.
“Work is currently paused on the government’s integrated review as resources are rightly diverted to tackling coronavirus,” Champion said.
“When work does re-start, we urge ministers to recognise DfID’s world-leading reputation, commit to its continuation as a standalone department and to get a grip on oversight for government ODA.”
Responding to the report, a government spokesperson said: “UK aid is making the world a healthier, safer and more prosperous place by tackling coronavirus, providing life-saving assistance in crises and helping girls get a quality education.
“We are using the best expertise across government to tackle complex global challenges and achieve value for money for the British taxpayer.”