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For the first time since 2013, the UK will not meet the UN target of spending 0.7 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA). Citing the economic impact of the global pandemic, the Government has instead allocated 0.5 percent of GNI for ODA in 2021, as a “temporary measure.”

It is estimated total ODA will be £10.9 billion in 2021, down from £14.5 billion a year before. While final allocations will not be confirmed until 2022, the UK Government, UN agencies and NGOs have announced spending reductions to specific countries and programmes.

ODA refers to aid intended to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries. Such assistance must be reported to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

New strategy for targeting UK aid

In line with the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, the Government intends to use its development spending and diplomacy to meet seven priorities for UK aid in 2021/22. These include girls’ education, climate change and aiding the global response to the pandemic.

Funding for strategic priorities

In April 2021, the FCDO announced funding allocations for its seven priorities, totalling £8,115 million. This represents around 80 percent of UK ODA spending in 2021/22. It includes allocations of £1.3 billion to address the pandemic and support global health resilience and £0.9 billion for humanitarian preparedness and responses.

In April, the Chair of the International Development Committee said it was “disappointing” that girls’ education was allocated £400 million, the second lowest thematic area spend. In June, the Government announced an additional £430 million over five years to the Global Partnership for Education.

Funding for individual countries

ODA will focus on Africa, the Indo-Pacific and countries affected by risk of famine, including Yemen and Somalia. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will reduce its ODA for programme delivery in China by 95 percent, to £0.9 million.

On 3 June 2021, the FCDO published a list of 34 countries that would receive bilateral ODA in 2021/22. In 2019, the UK funded bilateral programmes in a total of 136 countries and territories. Of these, Department for International Development funding focused on 48 countries and territories. 

Of those 48 who received bilateral ODA in 2019, Cameroon, Iraq and the West Bank and Gaza are amongst those not currently included as receiving bilateral ODA from the FCDO in 2021/22. The final list is likely to be higher for 2021/22, as it does not currently include ODA spent by other departments, core contributions to multilateral organisations, regional programmes, or capital investments.  

The UK Government has previously made reduced spending pledges to Yemen and Syria, while also identifying them as priority countries for humanitarian aid. The FCDO intends to continue its diplomatic work to resolve the conflicts.

Funding for agencies and programmes

The FCDO emphasises final funding allocations have not been made. However, several UN agencies have publicised funding reductions from the UK. In 2021, UNICEF will have its core funding from the UK to support children reduced by 60 percent, and the UK will cut 85 percent of its contribution to the UN Population Fund’s family planning programme.

Development NGOs have said that the funding decisions undermine the Government’s intentions to prioritise global health during the pandemic and girls’ empowerment. The FCDO says its equalities assessments found programmes targeting those with protected characteristics were no more likely to be reduced than other programmes.

The Government has announced an increase in core funding to the World Health Organization and said the cost of meeting its pledge to share 100 million vaccine doses globally by June 2022 will be in addition to funding already committed to ODA in 2021.

Accountability and coordination of ODA

The FCDO intends to better coordinate cross-Government ODA spend and has reviewed the role of the ICAI, the body that scrutinises UK ODA. The FCDO is now working with the ICAI to implement the review’s recommendations. These include a greater emphasis on practical recommendations for delivering programmes and directing scrutiny to the seven aid priorities.

Will the 0.7 percent target be restored in 2022?

In July 2021, the Treasury published a written statement setting out the tests required to be met to restore the 0.7 percent target. These are when the Budget for Responsibility (OBR) shows that “on a sustainable basis” the country is not borrowing for day-to-day spending and the ratio of underlying debt to GDP is falling.

The Commons supported the tests on 13 July. If the next OBR forecasts, expected in the Autumn, are like those in March 2021, ODA spending is unlikely to return to the 0.7 percent level until at least 2024. If the economy recovers faster than predicted, the tests may be met sooner.

The Library’s 0.7 percent aid target sets out further detail.

Update log

8 June 2021: Added list of countries that the FCDO has confirmed it will provide bilateral aid to in 2021/22

14 June 2021: Added G7 commitments on education, biodiversity and vaccines 

20 July 2021: Added details of UK Government written statement and some spending decisions.

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