We often hear of Westminster as a bubble. I once heard a columnist describe it as a fishbowl, a much more accurate description: transparent, but, looking inwards, you find the view to be obscured. Navigating this world can be tricky, and changing things is trickier still. However, there are a multitude of different instruments that civil society advocates, activists and campaigners can use to change and influence policy. One of the key ways that RESULTS UK attempts to do this is through engagement with the International Development Committee (IDC), the body that scrutinises the spending, programmes and policy of the Department for International Development.
The House of Commons Select Committees are balanced along party lines, with the aim being to represent the makeup of the House on each Committee. The Chair, historically selected by party whips, are now voted in by their fellow members, increasing the democratic accountability of the Committees.
One of the most effective policy-influencing tools that the IDC has in its armoury is holding inquiries. These inquiries cover a wide breadth of issues, such as: Ebola: Responses to a public health emergency; The Crisis in Yemen; The Definition and Administration of ODA; and Global Education: Leaving no one behind.
Once a topic for inquiry has been decided, the Committee calls for evidence from experts across a wide range of backgrounds, including civil society, the private sector, the government and academia. Once the written evidence has been collated, the Committee then invite these experts to answer a range of questions on their particular area of expertise, in relation to the inquiry.
I spoke with our Executive Director, Aaron Oxley, about our work with the IDC. He said that ‘while there are multiple channels for providing feedback on DFID’s work, the IDC is one of the most powerful and effective. Its very makeup highlights the tremendous cross-party support for DFID’s work, and provides an invaluable channel for voices outside of Parliament and DFID to be heard.’
Aaron has given evidence in front of the committee twice, where he spoke about financing of the Global Fund, and the allocation of UK aid resources. RESULTS UK has submitted written evidence to inquiries on many occasions, including a substantial submission to the ‘Global Education: leaving no one behind’ inquiry, published in 2017. This was launched at Woodside High, a Send my Friend (the global education coalition hosted by RESULTS UK) partner school. It was at this school that the Send my Friend champions spoke to the Committee Members on why global education matters to them and to the world.
Education is a key focus of our advocacy, and our submission to the inquiry provided expert policy analysis on DFID’s work towards achieving SDG 4 for equitable and inclusive education for all. Alongside many other NGOs, in our evidence submission to the IDC inquiry, we called for an updated Education Policy paper which outlined DFID plans to reach the most marginalised children in its education programmes, especially children with disabilities. This became a recommendation in the final IDC report, and a few months later, DFID published its 2018 education policy paper ‘Get Children Learning’, with a focus on reaching the most marginalised. We also suggested that DFID should drastically increase investment into finance and research into the benefits of Early Childhood Education, which was reflected in the IDC report.
As we seek to increase our engagement with the key actors on development issues within Parliament, our engagement with this body will be essential. The inquiries have been wide in scope, with varying degrees of media and parliamentary attention. Although the media may report on each inquiry differently, there is a strong correlation between the inquiries and the direction of DFID policy. As we continue our drive to tackle the root causes and symptoms of poverty, we will build on this successful engagement and strive to ensure development programmes reach and benefit the most vulnerable in our global society.