Good riddance to Department for International Development (DFID)?

By Alithea Williams

SPUC—the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

Recent weeks have seen the announcement that the Department for International Development (DFID) is to be folded into the Foreign Office to create the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

There has been a spectrum of reaction to this news, ranging from it being a long overdue outbreak of common sense, to a gross betrayal of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Whatever the overall consequences to this Whitehall reshuffle might be, what, if any implications does this have for the pro-life movement? And is this development something we can use to our advantage?

Funding abortion giants

Firstly, I am not disposed to mourn the demise of DFID. I’m sure it has been involved in many good and life-affirming programmes, but it has also made the UK one of the biggest funders of family planning programmes in the world. 

Under the guise of “Comprehensive Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR)” millions upon millions of taxpayer pounds have gone to fund abortion and contraception in developing countries. Vast sums have been handed over for this purpose with depressing regularity. In 2018, Theresa May pledged £200 million []for family planning in Africa and Asia. In 2019, a further £42 million was pledged – with the DFID secretary being explicit that the money was for the “neglected issue” of safe abortion. The programme she announced was to be run by Marie Stopes International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) – the world’s two largest abortion providers.

Illegal abortions and sex scandals

Appalling scandals have not dampened the department’s enthusiasm for funding these two organisations. IPPF was given £132 million from the aid budget when investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and corruption at the abortion giant were ongoing. In 2016, the Care Quality Commission inspectors found conditions at Marie Stopes clinics in the UK so bad it was forced to suspend abortion services. In Africa, the Governments of Kenya, Niger and Zambia have taken action against Marie Stopes for performing illegal abortions. Despite all this, Marie Stopes’ 2018 annual report shows that DFID was by far and away the organisation’s biggest donor, giving £49.5 million.

Family planning at the expense of women’s health

Not only has the Government been giving millions of pounds to abortion providers through DFID, it has been doing so at the expense of genuine maternal healthcare. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (Icai) slammed DFID for focusing on family planning at the expense of maternal health, and questioned the claims made about lives saved. Most damningly, the report says: “…We find that DFID did not pursue the strengthening of health systems to provide quality maternal care with the same intensity as it did for family planning, nor did it do enough to address the barriers that the poorest women face in accessing health services.”

So much for DFID. But will the new department be any better?

Value for the taxpayer

There is certainly some cause for hope. Much of the rhetoric around the merger is that British aid money should align with the UK’s strategic goals, and should represent value to the taxpayers who fund it. A ComRes poll found that 65% of the public oppose UK taxpayer money being spent on abortions overseas. This being the case, it is difficult to argue that such programmes represent value to the taxpayer. The Government having definite goals linked to aid should also make it easier to question and challenge where money is being spent.

Those supporting the move to merge DFID with the Foreign Office also talk about how aid should be tied in to general diplomacy, with one team of officials, not two, meeting foreign counterparts. It may become embarrassing for a secretary of state to be channeling large sums of money into organisations that promote abortion in countries where it is not legal if that same minister is having to liaise with the ministers of those countries on other issues.

Challenging how aid is spent

At the very least, this merger presents an opportunity to challenge how aid money is currently allocated. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali points out that about a third of the UK development budget is given to other aid agencies, such as the UN. “In Africa and elsewhere, some UN and other agencies are also known to promote radical programmes on matters like abortion which may be little related to life-enhancing projects such as food security or sanitation for the very poor,” he says.

Now is the perfect time to argue for a change of thinking in how aid is allocated. Instead of giving to vast conglomerates like the UN, we could put the case for giving to locally based, on the ground organisations that provide the food, healthcare, sanitation and education that people really need for a secure and dignified life. We know that the public responds generously when they are shown where their money is going (think of Children in Need or Comic Relief) so British people should be told explicitly where aid money is being spent and made to feel they have a stake in it. Call me optimistic, but I think people would be a lot more enthusiastic about aid going to food and education than to abortion.

Stop the funding

SPUC has already been campaigning for DFID to stop funding Marie Stopes. There is ample evidence (meticulously investigated by Obianuju Ekeocha of Culture of Life Africa) of the damage they have done to African women under the guise of reproductive health. The end of DFID is the perfect opportunity to campaign for an end to funding abortion overseas, and the birth of a new, life-sustaining aid policy.