A report by One – the campaigning group set up by the U2 singer and Bobby Shriver in 2004 – accused ministers of squandering aid money on projects that failed to reduce poverty or went to countries that did not need help, such as China.
Researchers said that the looming recession brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic meant the government may have to cut its international aid budget, and offered advice on which elements should be first to go.
The group is calling on Dominic Raab to make cuts “correctly” so that people most in need do not miss out.
Romilly Greenhill, the UK director of One, said: “As cuts become unavoidable, the UK aid budget will have to do more with less, but the impact of this should not be on the world’s poorest.
“This is the foreign secretary’s first test as the minister who will soon be in charge of the largest chunk of aid. To ensure he’s cutting correctly, he’ll need to use a surgeon’s scalpel and not a gardener’s scythe.”
Boris Johnson announced earlier this year that the Department for International Development (DfID) would merge with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). DfID was previously responsible for distributing the majority of the UK’s aid budget.
Almost 200 organisations wrote to the prime minister urging him to reconsider the decision, saying the move suggested that the UK was “turning its back on the world’s poorest people”.
The merger means Mr Raab will oversee the UK’s spending on foreign aid. One's real aid index rated DfiD's spending as both poverty-focused and effective, while the FCO's was neither.
Under current UK laws, Britain must spend 0.7 per cent of its national income on aid, a sum that totalled £15bn last year.
Examples of spending Bono’s group deemed not to provide value for money included some £452m effectively tied back to UK institutions. Tied aid is when a rich country lends money to a less wealthy one on the condition that it is spent on products and services in the donor country.
Elsewhere, the FCO spent £287m on frontline diplomatic work which One said did not demonstrate a poverty-reduction function; and some departments' projects failed to make gender equality a target element.
Overall One said some £1.6bn in aid spending could be cut.
The Independent has contacted the FCO and Dfid for comment