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

ODA refers to aid intended to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries. Aid given must be reported to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

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 pandemic, the Government will spend 0.5 percent of GNI for ODA in 2021 as a “temporary measure.” NGOs have said the reduction undermines the Government’s intentions to prioritise global health and girls’ empowerment.

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 percent 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. The report may cite any relevant economic or fiscal circumstances and their impact on the UK economy or the public finances. This is the Act’s only accountability mechanism.

UK performance

In 2020, the UK was one of only seven countries reporting to the OECD that it had met the 0.7 percent target. Only Germany spent more than the UK on aid both in absolute terms ($29 billion, compared to the UK’s $19 billion) and in proportional terms (0.74 percent of GNI, versus 0.70 percent).

Since 1960, only fourteen countries have ever met the target. The United States, Australia and Japan have never met the target. Germany met it for the first time in 2020.

Legislating for the 0.5 percent in 2021

If the UK had spent 0.5 percent of GNI in 2020, as it plans to in 2021, it would have ranked tenth in the world for its aid spending as a proportion of GNI, rather than seventh.

In addition to concerns for the impact of the reduction on aid recipients and UK soft power, debate has centred on whether legislation is required for the new target. In November 2020, the Foreign Secretary said he would bring forward a Bill, as he was uncertain when public finances would sufficiently recover to allow spending to return to 0.7 percent of GNI. However, in March 2021 the Prime Minister said as the reduction was temporary, no legislation was required. No Bill was announced in the 2021 Queen’s Speech.

The Former Solicitor General and Director of Public Prosecutions have both argued legislation is required, and the previous Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, said he would support legal action against the spending reduction.

Backbench amendment to restore the target from January 2022

On 2 June 2021, Andrew Mitchell MP proposed an Amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill 2021-22 to restore the target from 2022. The Amendment was supported by several Committee Chairs and opposition parties.

On 7 June, the Speaker determined that the amendment was outside the scope of the bill and instead an emergency debate was held the following day. The Speaker said he expected the Government to “find a way […] to allow the House to formally take an effective decision” on maintaining the UK’s committment to the target of spending 0.7 percent of GNI on ODA.

Reforming the target

In 2017, the Government said it would seek to modernise the ODA rules to include some peacekeeping-related spending. 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 International Development Committee has concluded inefficient aid spending is minimal and not the result of the target and argued redefining ODA may undermine the focus on poverty reduction in UK aid spending. No plans have been announced.


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