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In May 2022, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) published its new ten-year strategy for international development.

The strategy is published in the context of reduced UK aid spending and the Government’s wider foreign policy intentions to increase UK efforts in Africa and the Indo-Pacific, partly in response to China.

Aid spending was an estimated £3 billion lower in 2021 than 2020 (£14.5 billion versus £11.5 billion). While the date at which the UK will restore aid spending from 0.5% to 0.7% of Gross National Income is uncertain, the tests laid out by the Government suggest this will be in 2023/24, on current trends.

This briefing describes the background to the strategy, its four priorities, what it means for other development issues, and the UK’s spending commitments.

What are the new priorities for UK aid?

The strategy identifies four priorities for UK aid:

  • Reliable investment to help UK partners grow sustainably and mobilise up to £8 billion of UK-backed financing by 2025. This includes working through the UK’s relaunched development finance institution, British International Investment, to invest in businesses, trade, and jobs overseas.
  • Empowering women and girls, with a focus on ensuring girls receive 12 years of quality education, supporting reproductive and sexual health, and ending violence against women and girls. The Government will restore spending to 2019/20 levels, totalling £745 million in 2022/23.
  • Provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to those in greatest need, and work to prevent such crises and build resilience to them. The UK will spend £3 billion over the next three years. Around 25% of this figure has already been committed to Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and Ukraine.
  • Climate change, biodiversity, and global health. The strategy confirms climate change and biodiversity as the UK’s “number one” international priority. The UK will spend £11.6 billion in climate finance from 2021 to 2026 to help countries adapt to, and mitigate the impacts of, climate change. Health aid will include investments to Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

While poverty is not mentioned a separate priority, the Government argues a focus on increasing trade, the empowerment of women and girls, and action on climate change will help alleviate or address the causes of poverty. By law, UK development assistance provided by the FCDO must also be intended to reduce poverty and inequality between persons of different gender.

Which countries will the UK focus on?

In line with the Government’s 2021 integrated review of foreign, defence, security, and development policy, UK aid will focus on Africa and the Indo-Pacific (a region extending from Afghanistan to China):

  • Africa: In 2020, 52% of country-specific or region-specific bilateral aid was spent in Africa. UK aid objectives will include poverty alleviation, economic development, girls’ education, and climate change.
  • Indo-Pacific: In 2020, 39% of country-specific or region-specific bilateral aid was spent in the Asia region. UK aid will focus on economic ties, humanitarian support, girls’ education, and open societies. The integrated review previously noted that absolute poverty will be “almost eliminated” in the region by 2030.

The FCDO commits to spend at least 0.2% of the UK’s Gross National Income to least developed countries (LDCs). It has not met this target recently. There are 45 countries defined as LDCs by the UN. 33 are in Africa and nine in Asia.

The strategy commits to work more with middle-income economies on trade and climate change. They include Vietnam and Brazil. The Government says it will use the aid budget “only when necessary” for these countries.

How will aid be delivered?

The FCDO intends to deliver more aid directly to countries, rather than via multilateral institutions such as the World Bank. The Bank is the only organisation to whom the Government has confirmed a reduced funding settlement with (£3 billion in 2020-23 to £1.4 billion in 2022-25).

The Government argues aid will be better targeted and more accountable. Some analysts have, however, raised concerns this may reduce the reach of UK aid, mean less international coordination, and make it harder to increase aid spending efficiently, if the 0.7% target is restored soon. 

When will more information be released?

The Department will publish a separate Women and girls’ strategy, at a date not yet confirmed.

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