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The United Nations has a target for countries to spend 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA).

ODA is aid intended to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries and is reported under Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules.

In 2013, the UK achieved this target for the first time. Since 2015, the Government has also been under a statutory duty to meet it. However, citing the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government says it will spend 0.5% of GNI on ODA from 2021 as a “temporary measure”.

This paper describes international and UK performance against the target, legislative requirements, and debates over the target’s reform.

Duty to meet the target

The Government’s duty to meet the 0.7% target is in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. If the target is missed, the Government must report to the UK Parliament explaining why this is the case. This is the Act’s only accountability mechanism.

In 2021, debate centred on whether legislation was required for the new target of 0.5%. The former Solicitor General (PDF) and Director of Public Prosecutions argued legislation was required. However, the Government argued none was needed. In July 2021, the Commons voted in favour of two Treasury-proposed tests that must be met before spending is restored to 0.7% (see below).

UK performance

In 2020, the UK was one of only seven countries reporting to the OECD that it had met the 0.7% target (PDF). Only Germany spent more than the UK on aid both in absolute terms (US$29 billion, compared to the UK’s US$19 billion) and in proportional terms (0.75% of GNI, versus 0.70%).

Since 1960, only 15 countries have ever met the UN target. Following the reduction in UK spending to 0.5%, the UK slipped from sixth in the world in 2020, to ninth in 2021 and fifteenth in 2022 (in terms of aid as a percentage of GNI). In absolute terms (US$ equivalent), in 2022 the UK ranked fifth in the world, down two places from 2020.

Two tests must be met to restore spending

In July 2021, then Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, published a statement setting out the tests required to be met to restore the 0.7% target. These are that the Office for Budget 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 voted in support of the tests in July 2021.

The Autumn 2023 forecasts by the OBR suggests these tests will be met in both 2027/28 and 2028/29. However, the 2023 Autumn Statement did not include a return to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid in its plans. The Treasury expects UK aid spending to be “around 0.5%” of GNI during this period.

Backbench attempt to restore 0.7%, 2021

In June 2021, Andrew Mitchell MP (then a backbench MP, now the Minister for International Development) proposed an Amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill 2021-22 to restore the target from 2022. However, the Speaker determined that the amendment was outside the scope of the Bill. An emergency debate was instead held on 8 June 2021.

Following his decision on the amendment, the Speaker said that he expected the Government to “find a way […] to allow the House to formally take an effective decision” on the 0.7% target. The Speaker said the vote held in July related to his previous statement, suggesting the requirement for the Government to hold a substantive vote had been met.

Reforming the target

In 2017, the Government said it would seek to modernise the ODA rules to include some peacekeeping-related spending. No plans were announced. The International Development Committee has previously argued redefining ODA may undermine the focus on poverty reduction in aid spending.

In 2022, the UK spent £3.7 billion (29% of the aid budget) supporting refugees in the UK. This is allowed under internationally-agreed OECD rules on aid spending, but has drawn criticism from the International Development Committee who have questioned whether it is an efficient and ethical use of aid and in line with the practice of other states. The Government says it has no plans to seek amendments to the OECD rules on eligible refugee costs.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact has also recommended the Government consider a more flexible target in order to avoid encouraging spending towards the end of the target year, which is sometimes less effective. The Government previously expressed interest in considering this.

Update log

December 2023: Sections 2 and 3 updated following the 2023 Autumn statement and statistics on aid spending by other countries. 


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