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In 2020, the UK Government announced it would reduce its aid spending from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI), in response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK’s economy and public finances. It’s unlikely spending will return to 0.7% of GNI until after 2027/28 at least.

Additional pressure on the UK’s reduced aid budget has come from the requirement to meet existing commitments to international organisations, increasing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and Ukraine, and hosting an increased number of refugees and asylum seekers in 2022, including from Afghanistan, Ukraine, and from small-boat arrivals across the channel.

This briefing explains the international rules that apply on reporting aid spending on refugees in aid-donor countries, the patterns of past UK aid spending on refugees, and the significance of this to spending plans in 2022.

Spending aid in the UK

Under international aid rules, many of the costs of hosting refugees can count towards the aid budget for the first 12 months refugees are in the UK. This includes basic subsistence costs, such as food and accommodation.

An increasing amount of UK aid has been spent on UK-based refugees, with spending more than doubling from £424 million in 2016 to £898 million in 2021 (rising from 3.2% of the aid budget to 7.5%). Most of this money in recent years went towards providing food and shelter for refugees. Other aid is also spent within the UK. In 2021, this came to £727 million, and included administrative costs, UK-based experts and scholarships.

How is the aid budget being managed in 2022?

The Government has acknowledged that the costs of supporting those arriving from Ukraine, the resettlement of Afghans, and other asylum applications has put a pressure on its aid budget for 2022.

While the numbers who will be eligible for assistance and the total costs for the UK’s aid budget are uncertain, around 149,200 Ukrainians have arrived under UK visa schemes (February to 5 December 2022) and 22,800 people from Afghanistan (August 2021 to November 2022), in addition to asylum seekers from other countries, including via small boats in the channel.

Analysis by the Center for Global Development estimates that up to £3 billion of the aid budget (25%) might be spent on hosting refugees in 2022.

In November 2022, the Government said it would commit an additional £2.5 billion in aid for 2022 to 2024 to help meet these costs. This will come from the Treasury reserve and be classed as aid spending. The Commons Library briefing, Reducing the UK’s aid spend in 2021 and 2022 provides more.

Update log

13 December 2022: Added funding announcement


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