6.The UK Government voluntarily adheres to an internationally recognised definition of aid—Official Development Assistance (ODA). ODA was established by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Development Assistance Committee (DAC), of which the UK is a member and to which it reports its aid spending.
7.In recent years, some commentators and Government ministers have suggested the definition of what constitutes aid should be broadened or changed to align more with Britain’s national interests and respond to changing global conditions, such as the growing influence of China. This Committee’s predecessor cautioned against the UK developing and using its own definition of ODA. That caution was echoed in written evidence from former Secretaries of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell MP and Hilary Benn MP.
8.In oral evidence to this inquiry, the Secretary of State for International Development, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, reaffirmed the Government’s commitments to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on international development; as defined by the OECD DAC and the provisions of the International Development Act 2002. However, the Secretary of State added that the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy offered an opportunity for a conversation with fellow DAC members about what is and what is not ODA eligible, particularly within the climate change space and the funding of peacekeeping.
9.The Committee welcomes the Government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on aid, keeping within the current international rules-based consensus of the OECD’s DAC definition, and preserving the primary focus of UK aid upon poverty reduction.
10.In November 2015, the Department for International Development (DFID) and HM Treasury published a new strategy for the UK’s spending on overseas aid - UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest. The strategy:
DFID is in the process of refreshing the 2015 UK aid strategy, but no date has yet been set for its publication.
11.The UK aid strategy sets out the priorities and principles against which UK aid spending should take place. The refreshed aid strategy will shape ODA expenditure beyond 2020 and should be an important building block in the Government’s forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). Therefore, it is crucial that the refreshed Strategy is in place before the next CSR so that the UK’s aid outputs are based on strategic planning rather than fitting around Whitehall budgets.
12.The focus on using aid to enhance mutual prosperity appears to have intensified in recent years, with some government documents explicitly linking mutual prosperity to the ‘Global Britain’ agenda to reposition the UK internationally and build ties with a wider range of countries. In the opinion of many witnesses to this inquiry, the pursuit of narrowly-defined economic or foreign policy goals can create a tension with UK aid’s other objectives, such as poverty reduction. In oral evidence, Dr Emma Mawdsley told us that the risk of trying to trying to combine economic diplomacy and poverty reduction is that neither objective is done very well. James Rogers, in written evidence, put the counter argument that “Britain should not be afraid of using its ODA resources to reinforce its national interests, particularly given that altruism and interests can intersect”.
13.The UK spent £15.2 billion on ODA in 2019, equivalent to 0.7% of the UK’s GNI. (Figure 1.) The UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI is legally binding through the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. The UK has met the 0.7% target for seven consecutive years since 2013. The UK continues to be one of a handful of countries that spends 0.7% of its GNI on ODA.
Figure 1: Annual UK Official Development Assistance (ODA)expenditure by source,
2014 to 2019
Note: Non-departmental ODA spending includes EU attribution (non-DFID), Gift Aid and the BBC World Service.
14.Bilateral aid—aid provided for specific countries, regions or programmes—makes up the majority of the UK’s overseas aid spending.
Figure 2: The UK’s multilateral Official Development Assistance expenditure in 2018 by recipient
Note: European Commission Institutions include a specific contribution to the European Development Fund and attributions to the EU development budget; other multilateral institutions include global funds to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and UN agency or fund includes the UN Refugee Agency and the World Food Programme.
15.Shifts in the UK’s international development priorities have been accompanied by changes in the spending profile of UK aid. Since 2014, DFID’s share of total ODA spending has reduced from 86% to 73%. At the same time, there has been a growing focus on middle-income countries.
16.In recent years, the amount of aid spent outside DFID has scaled up rapidly.
17.While the majority (55%) of the UK’s bilateral aid spending went to Least Developed and Other Low-Income Countries in 2018, the share of the UK’s bilateral aid expenditure spent in countries classified as ‘middle income’ increased in absolute terms (from £1.5 billion to £2.0 billion) and as a proportion of bilateral ODA expenditure (from 36% to 45%) between 2014 and 2018. (Figure 3.)
Figure 3: Total bilateral Official Development Assistance expenditure by country income classification, 2014 to 2018
18.There is also a marked difference in where DFID and other government departments and cross-government funds spend aid:
Figure 4: Top ten recipients of DFID and non-DFID aid, 2018
Figure 5: Share of net-Official Development Assistance (ODA) across country income groups, DFID and non-DFID, 2018
Note: LDCs = least developed countries (plus Zimbabwe). LMICs = lower middle-income countries. UMICs = upper middle-income countries. Country classifications are from the OECD: . Source: Statistics on International Development: Final UK Aid Spend 2018, DFID, September 2019, .
19.In recent years, the UK aid budget’s focus has shifted towards middle-income countries that are primarily of interest to the UK from a security, climate change or economic perspective. This shift is driven by non-DFID UK aid spending. To ensure that UK aid is used as effectively as possible, the Government must direct ODA to countries where there is the greatest likelihood of reducing poverty. Accordingly, it should review the growth in ODA directed to middle income countries to ensure that these interventions are helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
12 Further to the International Development Act and the OECD DAC definition, the added the duty to consider gender equality and the enshrined the 0.7% commitment into law
13 ; and
15 , WQs 24 and 35
17 15% of donor contributions to UN-mandated and UN-led peacekeeping operations may be counted as ODA (, paragraph 32)
20 . See also, ICAI’s compendium reports: ; and ICAI,
22 For example,
25 According to , this is equivalent to US$19.3 billion (2017 prices)
34 , page 159
36 Figure provided by House of Commons Library from . This marks a significant shift from 15 years ago, when nearly 20% of DFID’s bilateral budget was spent on budget support (, page 3)
37 ; and
38 For example, the Prosperity Fund is targeted at assistance to middle-income countries
43 , Table 7
46 . Bilateral aid spending in India was £94.7 million in 2018. The equivalent amount for China was £55.6 million
48 . The statistic excludes some ODA spent through global and regional programmes. Least developed countries (LDCs) are 47 countries identified by the UN as facing severe structural impediments to their development: see the OECD list at . ICAI also included Zimbabwe in the statistic, which is a low-income country but not on the official list of LDCs
49 Note that the majority of non-DFID aid is not reported against specific countries
50 , paragraph 52
Published: 9 June 2020