UK taxpayers have forked out yet more money for aid spending, even though there is little evidence it has any positive impact on the lot of the world’s poorest.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ACAI), the body charged with overseeing the UK’s Overseas Development Assistance, has found there to be vast wastage in a new research fund set up to help meet the UK’s 0.7 per cent GNI target for aid spending. The creation of the Global Challenges Research Fund marks a significant increase in development research funding, with £1.5 billion being committed by government between 2016 and 2021.
Projects supported by the fund include £537,717 on keeping Indian houses cool, £133,584 on a finding ways to reduce smoking amongst Chinese factory workers, and a similar amount was spent on limiting consumption of sugary drinks in Indian schools.
Whilst supportive of the idea of research-driven development aid, the ACAI found poor strategic direction and that the research councils responsible for the spending allocation felt pressured into giving out cash. The research councils, for instance, made £195 million in grants before the funding criterion was even agreed. Poor financial oversight means that the councils could be faced with a £1 billion liability.
This goes to the route of the problem with UK aid spending: arbitrary targets deliver arbitrary spending. Seeking imaginative new ways of spending money to reach the 0.7 per cent target inevitably moves the focus away from emergency and disaster relief. The effects of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean demonstrate this all too clearly.
The report should serve as a reminder that good intentions often lead to schemes which simply don’t deliver results.