Andrew Grice: Questions still remain about Britain's aid policy

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The Independent Online

Andrew Mitchell was the big winner in the Government's root-and-branch spending review last autumn.

His Department of International Development (DfID) was the only one guaranteed real terms annual increases apart from Health, which will be under huge pressure as it has to find £20bn of efficiency savings over the next four years.

Yet the International Development Secretary didn't have to put up a fight. His budget was ring-fenced because in opposition the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had pledged to match Labour's commitment to reach the UN target of devoting 0.7 per cent of national income to aid by 2013.

DfID spending will rise from £5.9bn in 2010-11 to £9.4bn by 2013-14. "Spend it well," the Chancellor George Osborne told Mr Mitchell, a passionate believer in the benefits of overseas aid who shadowed his post in opposition for five years.

Mr Mitchell took Mr Osborne at his word. He did not regard his generous budget as a blank cheque. He will phase out bilateral programmes in 16 countries deemed not to need it, including China, Russia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Serbia and Iraq. Money will be concentrated in 27 countries that between them account for 75 per cent of global deaths during pregnancy and childbirth and almost the same proportion of deaths from malaria. Afgh-anistan will get a 40 per cent boost.

Controversially, fast-growing India will still benefit because it has more poor people than Sub-Saharan Africa.

Thirty per cent of the UK development budget will go to conflict zones and fragile countries. But the Government denies criticism that this amounts to the "militarisation" of aid, pointing out that two-thirds of the poorest nations are in or emerging from violent conflict.

Labour has raised doubts over whether the Coalition is on track to hit the 0.7 per cent target because its commitment is "backloaded". Whatever the UK can afford, after Mr Cameron's strong defence of the pledge yesterday, he cannot afford to break it.