UK aid in 2015: The progress so far and the priorities ahead

Speech by Justine Greening at the Institute for Development Studies, looking at the achievements of UK aid and the focus for future work.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP

Watch: video recording of Justine Greening’s speech at IDS

What role does the UK have to play in creating a fairer and more sustainable world by 2030?


Thank you for that introduction. It is perfect timing to be able to give a speech to all of you about what I see as the key challenges, the key opportunities in what is a milestone year for development.

After two and a half years at DFID, I wanted to take the opportunity to set out how I now see our UK development approach evolving, and how it has evolved in recent years.

And I want to address a number of issues:

First of all, how our core priorities for tackling poverty are changing to focus on economic development, women and girls and leading in emergencies;

How DFID itself is changing as an organisation to deliver a smarter approach to aid that draws on the best of British expertise that we have to offer other countries;

How this new model of development isn’t just tackling poverty in developing countries but also is in our interests too, as a country;

And then, finally, I want to reflect on how we can make sure that the post-2015 development framework has sustainability at its heart and then delivers the world that we all want to see.

Impact of development

I can’t really start talking about the future and what we’ve done, without reflecting just how far we’ve come in the battle against poverty since the world agreed the Millennium Development Goals back in 2000. Since these 8 goals for tackling poverty were agreed, there are now more children in school than ever before, more mothers are giving birth safely, fewer people are going hungry.

And I think as a result of that progress, the world is now more ambitious than ever for the next set of development goals.

There’s a strong expectation that at the heart of those new development goals there is going to be a ground-breaking commitment to end extreme poverty for good, leaving no one behind.

I’m proud of what the UK has done to contribute to getting the world to the point we’re at today and I’m proud of our record on development. And I think that we should all be proud of what our country is doing.

I think that for many people hitting 0.7 will stand out as our key promise that we’ve kept. Under this government, Britain became the first major economy to meet that UN target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on development.

And yesterday Parliament passed a landmark Bill to enshrine this commitment in law, really cementing Britain’s global leadership on development.

That investment is being used to make life-saving, life-changing differences to people in developing countries.

And today we are publishing the results on our key development targets that we set ourselves as a government in 2011 that really show how clearly we’ve made progress.

They show that the UK has stopped 24.5 million under-5s, breastfeeding and pregnant women from going hungry, that’s well in excess of the target that we set ourselves of 20 million.

We’ve supported nurses, midwives and doctors to safely deliver 4.3 million babies, which is more than double the target that we set ourselves in 2011 of 2 million.

We’re on track to help 11 million children go to school.

And all of those results haven’t just come about by chance. They’ve come about because of the choices that we set ourselves and the goals that we set ourselves as a Department for International Development.

[Political content removed] In 2011:

£19 million was being invested in nutrition and stopping children being permanently mentally and physically stunted by lack of proper food. Last year that figure was £64 million.

£194 million was being spent on tackling malaria. In 2013-14, that figure was £539 million. This choice has helped contribute to the reduction in deaths from malaria from 639,000 in 2010 to 584,000 in 2013.

Around £10 million was being spent to tackle Neglected Tropical Diseases. In 2012, the UK announced an additional £195 million to help combat these diseases and in 2013-14 the UK spent over £40 million. This will help us control diseases like Guinea Worm, elephantiasis, bilharzia and blinding trachoma, and UK programmes will reach more than 140 million people.

Beyond aid

I think all of that, and all of the results that we’re publishing today, show that for people who say that investing in development doesn’t make a difference – they’re wrong. Development does change things and it changes people’s lives for the better.

At the same time we know the battle against poverty is very far from won.

There are still around a billion people in the world living in chronic poverty, on less than a dollar day. They are some of the most marginalised, most vulnerable people on the planet, the most difficult people to reach.

Many of them are girls and women living in places where their rights are sometimes absolutely non-existent.

We know that economic growth has played a critical role in reducing poverty through jobs and higher incomes - but at the moment most developing countries are not growing fast enough to reach that zero poverty goal any time soon.

And there is no doubt that while some countries will develop and graduate from aid, there is a growing danger that the most fragile and vulnerable states will be left far behind. By 2030, around two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor are expected to live in fragile states.

Early on in this job I realised that the programmes we think of as traditional aid - education, health, sanitation - vital as they are, would not be enough by themselves to meet these challenges.

Ultimately we need to tackle the root causes as well as the symptoms of poverty.

And yes that means more vaccines, more children in school, more clean water supplies. But it also means going beyond traditional aid.

It means helping entrepreneurs to access finance. It means supporting countries to grow their own tax regimes. It means persuading parents to let their daughters stay in school instead of being married off.

So I set out 3 core priorities for DFID, where I wanted us to take a fundamentally smarter approach to aid: driving economic development, focusing on women and girls and leading in emergencies.

Economic growth

The first core priority is driving economic development. I’ve set about building the most coherent, focused and ambitious approach to economic development that DFID has ever had, doubling our bilateral spend on programmes that drive inclusive, sustainable growth and jobs and break down barriers to trade and investment.

The UK is helping to modernise ports in Kenya and Tanzania. We’re helping to increase Nigeria’s power supply. And we’re providing start-up costs and technical advice to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

We are also focusing on what the UK Prime Minister calls the ‘Golden Thread’ of development.

In other words, building the institutions - such as the rule of law and the presence of strong property rights - which enable open economies and open societies to thrive. We are on track to provide more than 6 million people with secure land and property rights by the end of March this year.

Economic development was the right priority for DFID but there is no doubt we’re going to need to do a lot more of it. With demographics showing huge growth in the numbers of young people, the World Bank predicts an extra 600 million jobs will be needed to absorb burgeoning working-age populations, mainly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa over the next 15 years.

Inclusive, sustainable economic growth is needed just to stand still on poverty, at the very minimum.

Women and girls

My second core priority is putting girls and women at the heart of everything DFID does.

Since this government launched our strategic Vision for Girls and Women, we have helped changed millions of lives for the better: supporting more girls into school, helping more women access choices around family planning and empowering women economically.

I wanted DFID to do even more – more on what we were already doing – and then go even further and add more areas where we were pushing for progress.

Child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation are two critical issues that the international community has backed away from tackling in the past – now DFID, with a lot of help from campaigners and NGOs, is working hard to put FGM and child marriage on the global agenda.

Last summer the UK hosted the Girl Summit alongside UNICEF, bringing together to a huge range of governments, NGOs, businesses, young people, researchers to rally a global movement to help end these harmful practises.

I believe we now need to lock in this momentum and keep these issues under the spotlight. Focusing on girls and women must absolutely continue to be a core priority until girls and women everywhere have the power to decide their own futures and live up to their potential.

Leading in emergencies

The third core priority I’ve set is leading in emergencies.

When you look at the world today, and see the number, size and complexity of crises – in Syria, in South Sudan, in Sierra Leone following the Ebola outbreak – it’s not hard to understand that our humanitarian system is getting stretched practically to breaking point.

For 2015, the UN’s global humanitarian appeal requests support for 57.5 million people at a cost of $16.4 billion. This is a 445% increase to the $3 billion requested in 2003.

And the reality is that we are set to face ever more demands on the system, as we deal with the effects of a changing climate, growing populations, conflict and extremism.

There is an ever growing gap between needs and resources.

I’ve ensured that at DFID we are investing significantly to improve the quality and speed of humanitarian responses in countries that we know are most at risk of natural disaster or conflict-related humanitarian emergencies.

And I am making DFID policy climate smart by making reducing carbon emissions, reducing the impact of climate change and tackling deforestation a core part of our business.

But we need to do a lot more.

In particular, we have to realise that humanitarian emergencies that clear themselves up in 1 or 2 years, are the exception not the rule.

And too often our humanitarian responses, which focus on immediate, life-saving relief, are simply not set up to deal with this.

This was brought home to me visiting some of the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. After nearly 4 years of conflict – and unless we take action now – we will see a generation of children who have been caught up in that conflict, growing up with no education, no skills, no jobs, no hope for the future.

That’s why alongside other international leaders, in 2013, I set up the No Lost Generation Initiative to call on the international community to give these children an education and a future.

Since then we’ve seen significant increases in funding from around the world. The UK has dedicated £94 million specifically for the protection, trauma care and education of children affected by the Syria crisis.

But we also need to bring this approach to other protracted crises and in other areas including health and economic development.

The UK must continue to drive this right up the global agenda.

Transforming DFID

Economic development, women and girls, leading in emergencies – these were all things DFID was already doing but we needed much greater focus, coordination and ambition.

I’m also changing how DFID operates so we can deliver on this.

It’s no good having the right priorities if we’re working in the wrong ways, in the wrong places, without the right tools.

Looking at where we work – this government ended programmes to countries like Russia and China to prioritise the poorest places and our aid programme is now targeted to 28 countries rather than stretched across 42.

Looking at how we work – I’ve focused on driving greater efficiency; introducing better ways of working with suppliers and greater ministerial oversight on value for money projects; with the goal of squeezing every penny out of our development budget.

We’ve also driven much greater transparency and scrutiny of DFID’s work by setting up the Independent Commission for Aid Impact which scrutinises everything we do.

And I’ve introduced our online Development Tracker, which allows everyone to view exactly how and where we are spending aid money.

And finally, looking at the tools we use, I’ve made it a priority for DFID to be investing in the latest innovations and cutting edge technology that can make development happen faster and better.

From drought-tolerant maize for African farmers, to Rotavac - a new vaccine for gastroenteritis in infants, to smarter water pumps for rural villages: DFID funded research is changing the lives of millions.

UK development budget

In changing the way DFID works, I’ve also wanted to ensure that the UK’s development budget reflects the UK public’s development priorities.

We’ve set up UK Aid Match to give the public the chance to decide where some of their aid money goes, by matching appeals run by charities with government funding. So far over 4.5 million people have had their donations doubled.

I’ve also reached out to diaspora communities in Britain to utilise their unique insight, expertise and networks.

We co-fund the Common Ground Initiative with Comic Relief to help people like Belvien, a teacher in the UK from the Congolese diaspora, who is now helping to improve training and school facilities for teachers, parents and pupils back in the Congo.

And Yomi, a social worker from the Nigerian diaspora, who set up an initiative to help marginalised school children in Lagos.

It’s also been important to me to reach out to young people.

Our fantastic youth volunteering programme, the International Citizen Service matches thousands of young volunteers from this country with volunteers in developing countries to work on development projects.

Last year I launched an extension to this scheme, ICS Entrepreneur, which is matching Britain’s future entrepreneurs and business leaders with entrepreneurs and small businesses in the world’s emerging and frontier markets.

And our Connecting Classrooms scheme helps schools in the UK link up to a partner school in a developing country, giving children here a chance to learn about the world as well providing professional development for teachers in many of our priority countries.

I think all of this work is something I’d like DFID to be doing even more of in the future.

New model for development

So I’ve wanted the UK’s development department to reflect the UK public’s priorities, and I’ve also been very clear that I want DFID to be drawing on the very best expertise, skills and brains we have here in Britain.

I wanted DFID to draw on Britain’s fantastic professional skills.

Last year we sent out experts from the Institute of Chartered Accountants to assist the Zambian authorities to strengthen business auditing.

DFID is also working across government. In humanitarian crises, we are routinely working with the Ministry of Defence and the NHS. When Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013 we sent Royal Navy ships and RAF planes to deliver supplies, as well as a team of NHS paramedics, surgeons and doctors.

Beyond crisis-working, we work with HMRC to help developing countries to develop their tax systems and we work with Scotland Yard to improve law enforcement and tackle corruption.

DFID’s evolving strategy for developing countries now means our new ‘normal’ is increasingly to work across government to bring to bear the whole of government’s resources and expertise to deliver better international standards on issues like tax, trade, extractives transparency.

Britain’s interests

This is a new model for development that goes beyond aid.

And as well as delivering the best offer our country has to developing countries, this model operates firmly in Britain’s interests.

DFID is increasingly playing an important role in delivering UK foreign policy.

When it comes to security interests, it is often DFID that is at the centre of helping to support and build peace and stability around the world. If you look at the conflict in Syria and the uncertainty across that region; it is DFID that is helping to deliver humanitarian aid but also helping to be part of building a long-term strategy for the region.

You’ve probably all seen the cross-government response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. If we hadn’t taken action this was a global health security threat to all of us, including the UK.

The work that we’ve done in Sierra Leone is another fantastic example of DFID leveraging other parts of government; working closely with the Ministry of Defence and the NHS, Public Health England, as well as our fantastic NGOs like Save the Children.

DFID is also playing a critical role in delivering the government’s agenda on growth and jobs. There is no doubt that Britain’s future economic strength depends on us increasing our global exports - this government aims to double UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020.

Success hinges on our goods and services being taken to new markets around the world. If DFID can help countries successfully develop that’s good for us as well as helping to tackle poverty around the world.

DFID is working closely with the Foreign Office, BIS and UKTI to drive prosperity partnerships with these countries.

When I first came to DFID it sometimes felt like quite an isolated department from the rest of government, perhaps more like an NGO than a government department. Today, DFID operates at the heart of government, tackling poverty, that’s our key aim, but also helping to drive and deliver the government’s foreign policy.


When I arrived at DFID it would have been easy to say we do a lot of things really well, like education and health and sanitation, so let’s just keep doing more of those things. But I felt that we could be much more and do much more.

Today I believe that the UK has one of the most pioneering, inventive, 21st Century approaches to development anywhere in the world. We set the agenda on things like rights for women and economic development.

Our new model of development sees DFID draw on the very best of Britain’s professional skills, business skills, on our diaspora communities, on our young people – to give developing countries an amazing offer from Britain.

When it comes to development, no other country in the world does the amount we do, as extensively, as flexibly, or as fast, in the way that we do now.

And this approach isn’t just the right thing to do by developing communities; it’s the smart thing for Britain too: it’s in all our interests to build a safer, healthier, more prosperous world.

That’s why the next few months are so critical for developing countries and for Britain, as the new development goals are negotiated. These goals will set the agenda for development over the next 15 years. We also have the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa and the Climate Change Conference in Paris this year.

The UK government, led by the Prime Minister, will continue to push for a simple, clear and inspiring set of development goals and targets that can deliver an end to extreme poverty. And we believe this needs to include economic growth, governance, rule of law, tackling corruption, peace and stability and putting women and girls first.

We’re also clear that these goals must have a green thread of sustainability running through them.

At the moment the UN’s Working Group have come up with a very long, unwieldy list of goals and targets that will be very hard for countries to work with, and there’s a real risk we’re going to try to focus on everything and end up achieving nothing.

So we really need leadership on this and I think that’s where you, civil society, come in.

We should be proud of our tradition as a country for campaigning and achieving global change, our civil society has an amazing collective voice.

There’s also a real role for young people too to have their say and play their part in campaigning.

It’s crunch time and we all need to be taking a stand.

We have a unique opportunity to set this planet on a more prosperous, more sustainable path, so let’s seize this chance and build the world we all want.

Thank you.

Published 20 March 2015