Aid budget must be ringfenced for overseas and not used in UK, MPs say

Government spent around 10 per cent of development assistance budget domestically in 2021, committee says

Humanitarian relief arriving in Turkey from Britain, where the Home Office is accused of raiding the aid budget. PA
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Ministers have voiced concerns that foreign aid funding is being diverted to other departments to cover ballooning refugee costs within the UK, saying the government's approach to spending is “woefully inadequate and wilfully opaque”.

MPs say government spending on the overseas aid budget lacks transparency, accusing ministers of behaving in a way “incompatible with the spirit” of global aid rules by spending about £1 billion ($1.2bn) of the budget on refugees inside the UK in 2021.

In an International Development Committee report, members accused the government of overseeing a trebling of per capita costs to support refugees in the UK, calling it “unwarranted largesse by the Home Office at the expense of both UK taxpayers and people living in the world’s poorest countries”.

The government slashed the foreign aid budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of UK national income in 2021.

Committee members pointed out that in that year, the government spent about 10 per cent of the total official development assistance budget inside the UK, a figure that was larger than the percentage of funding allocated to any other sector.

MPs predicted that the figure for last year would likely increase, due to the combination of the Ukrainian and Afghan resettlement schemes and the increased numbers of migrants arriving across the Channel in small boats.

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Sarah Champion, committee chairwoman, said he “haemorrhaging of funds from the budget to the Home Office is robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

The Labour MP accused the government of making a “determined effort” to avoid scrutiny.

“Our attempts to access straightforward information about how the government is spending the ODA [Official Development Assistance] budget in the UK hit a brick wall," she said.

“We have to wonder why this information is not readily shared by the respective departments.

“The Home Office raid on the UK’s aid budget is running unchecked. It’s time to face up to ministers and say hands off the aid budget — vulnerable people in the world’s poorest countries are being short-changed.”

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MPs want the budget ringfenced and put beyond the reach of the Home Office to ensure it goes to support vulnerable countries.

In the report, they warned: “The eye-watering cost of supporting refugees in the UK may be politically unpalatable and publicly unpopular, but the government should not attempt to conceal it by performing a budgetary sleight of hand at the expense of people living in the world’s poorest countries.”

The committee cited statistics showing that UK aid spending per refugee increased from £6,700 in 2019 to nearly £22,000 in 2021, warning that according to one estimate from the Centre for Global Development aid spending on in-country refugee costs could exceed £3 billion in 2022.

Updated: March 02, 2023, 12:01 AM