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UK Aid Policy and Practice 1974-90

An Analysis of the Poverty-Focus, Gender-Consciousness and Environmental Sensitivity of British Official Aid

by Christopher C. Erswell

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Institution: University of Liverpool
Advisor(s): Dr. Walter Little
Degree: Ph.D., Political Economy
Year: 1994
Volume: 429 pages
ISBN-10: 158112127X
ISBN-13: 9781581121278


This thesis provides a detailed analysis of UK Aid policy over the period 1974-90. Its focus is primarily upon the extent to which official aid was concerned with poverty alleviation. This theme permitted a comparison to be made between the records of the Labour administration of 1974-79 and the Conservative administration of 1979-90. A quantitative comparison is made of the two aid programmes. The philosophical, moral and ideological aspects of the British aid programme are explored. Two themes in particular are studied in depth: aid and gender and aid and the environment.

The influence of lobby groups is considered, including those representing political, commercial, gender, environmental and "human development" interests. The implications of conditionality are also considered. Assessment is made of the proportion of ODA projects which can be said to be relevant to women using unpublished ODA documents. An analysis is also made of internal, unpublished ODA "flagship" projects documents, aimed at the poorest, women and the environment. The results of this investigation indicate that official aid during the period under scrutiny was characterised by a continuity dictated by the exigencies of the export lobby, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Treasury and the Foreign Office. The commercial and political influences were already evident under Labour. A quantitative increase in aid was negotiated in return for the introduction of the Aid for Trade Provision. This significantly increased the commercial influence on aid, resulting in a shift away from the poorest countries and the sectors most critical to the poorest. It also prepared the ground for the greater emphasis on, and expansion of, commercial uses of aid under the Thatcher Government. Similarly, the political continuity between Labour and Conservative periods of office was typified by the support for the Somoza regime by the Labour Government and the axing of aid to the Sandinista regime by the Conservatives.

A sectoral analysis of British aid reveals a heavy bias towards cash crops and a lack of emphasis on sub-sectors critical to basic needs and human development. Very few projects can be said to be relevant to women in a conscious, pre-planned way. The very small number of poverty-focussed, gender-conscious or environmentally-sensitive projects are unlikely to ever account for more than a tiny fraction of the aid budget. It is argued that the conditionality attached to an increasing amount of aid is a mechanism for imposing a model of economic development in the interest of the donor, making it advisable for recipients to avoid using aid until such time as conditionality can be eliminated. Conditional aid should be abandoned by Northern agencies, but, given that this is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, it is necessary to support attempts to reform aid in order to eliminate as many strings as possible in the medium term.