At a glance
- The United Kingdom (UK) is the third-largest donor country in absolute terms, spending US$19.4 billion (current prices) on official development assistance (ODA) in 2019 according to preliminary data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
- In 2019, the UK was the fifth-largest donor when considering ODA as a proportion of gross national income (GNI). Since 2013, it has met the United Nations (UN) target of spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA and in 2015, it enshrined this target into law.
- The COVID-19 crisis is having a profound and potentially long-term impact on volumes of ODA the UK provides. In 2020, the 0.7% target was maintained, but ODA volumes fell as UK GNI shrank in response to the crisis.
- The government announced that from 2021 it intends to provide ODA volumes equivalent to only 0.5% of GNI because of the historical deterioration in UK public finances. This is expected to translate to an ODA budget of £10.0 billion (US$13.3 billion) in 2021, approximately one-third less than the 2019 budget.
- Enhancing the UK’s global reach by fostering better alignment between foreign, defense, and security efforts is a key strategic goal of the majority Conservative government, elected in December 2019. The government launched an Integrated Review of UK Security, Defense, Foreign Policy and Development in January 2020. The review was delayed by the COVID-19 crisis but is expected to be published in early 2021.
- In September 2020, the UK Prime Minister launched the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), formed by merging the former Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The reform aims to promote greater alignment between the UK’s diplomatic and development efforts and signals a change in the strategic direction of UK development assistance policy.
- The government is developing a new strategic framework to ensure UK ODA focuses on countries where the UK’s development, security, and economic interests align. The new strategy will enable UK ODA to tackle seven key global challenges: 1) Climate and biodiversity; 2) COVID-19 and global health security; 3) Girls’ education; 4) Science, research, and technology; 5) Open societies and conflict resolution; 6) Trade and economic development; and 7) Humanitarian preparedness and response.
- The FCDO is establishing new organizational and decision-making structures which are likely to significantly change the way UK development assistance is implemented both within headquarters and abroad. The government is also reviewing the oversight and evaluation mechanisms for UK ODA.
- The future policy trajectory of UK development assistance will become clearer when the findings of the Integrated Review of UK Security, Defense, Foreign Policy and Development are published, as well as the new strategic framework; however, current indications suggest a pivot towards government’s goal of ensuring greater coherence and alignment between UK development, foreign, security, and trade objectives.
- The UK officially left the European Union on January 31, 2020 and is now in a formal transition period until the January 1, 2021. How the UK collaborates with the EU on development assistance following the end of the transition period remains undefined and is likely to be tied to the outcome of negotiations in other areas.
The UK is the third-largest donor country in absolute terms, after the United States (US) and Germany, and the fifth-largest in relative terms. According to preliminary data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC), total ODA in 2019 was US$19.4 billion (current prices). According to the OECD, this represents an increase of 2%, compared to 2018 as increases in bilateral assistance offset decreases in multilateral contributions.
In 2013, the UK became the first G7 country to achieve the United Nations (UN) target of spending 0.7% of its GNI on ODA, and it has maintained this level since then. It enshrined the target in law in 2015, meaning that the UK’s ODA has evolved in line with the UK economy. Despite committing to maintain the target in their election manifesto, the Conservative government, elected in December 2019, announced in the November 2020 Spending Review, that they will abandon the commitment from 2021 as they grapple with record levels of government public debt and largest economic contraction experienced in 300 years. Starting in 2021, the government intends to provide 0.5% of GNI on ODA. In 2021, this is expected to translate to an ODA budget of £10.0 billion (US$13.3billon), one-third third less than the 2019 budget.
The government has stated that the cuts will be temporary and that they will revert to the 0.7% target when the fiscal situation allows. However, the scale of the fiscal problems the UK is experiencing are unlikely to be resolved in the short term. The decision to abandon the 0.7% target, has been widely criticized by business groups, former Prime Ministers, religious groups, and civil society, and most of the other major political parties.
The UK has officially left the European Union after securing a last-minute trade deal for goods. Negotiations on trade in services continue and it is not yet clear how the UK will cooperate with the EU on international development. About 9% (US$1.8 billion) of the UK’s development assistance or 26% of its multilateral ODA went through the EU in 2018. Following the end of the transition period, this money is expected to be disbursed through other channels. According to the withdrawal agreement, the UK will remain party to the European Development Fund (EDF) until the current funding cycle ends in 2020. DFID will continue to contribute to EU development programs approved before 31 December 2020 until 2027. The new government’s vision for future collaboration beyond this point remains unclear and is likely to be linked to the outcome of negotiations in other areas. The previous minority-led Conservative government had indicated a willingness to continue to collaborate with the EU on development issues including migration and humanitarian assistance.
Unless otherwise indicated, all data in this section is based on the grant-equivalent measurement system. For more information, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.
Government aims to further align UK development strategy with the UK’s foreign policy objective
The creation of a new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) signals a change in strategic direction for UK development assistance and reflects the government’s intention to ensure greater coherence and alignment between UK development, foreign, security, and trade objectives.
The Government provided an indication of what will be in its new strategic framework in November 2020. It is not yet clear when it will be published but the intention is that it will be used to guide ODA spending and ensure it tackles seven key global challenges:
Climate change and biodiversity - As previously announced, the government will contribute £11.6 billion (US$15.5 billion) of ODA to a ringed fenced International Climate Fund between 2021 and 2025. This will be used for research and development and to support partner countries in their climate adaptation and mitigation plans. The UK will host the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) summit in 2021 and views climate change as an important area for development cooperation.
COVID-19 and global health security – The UK will continue to support key multilateral initiatives and organizations — including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the World Health Organizations (WHO) — and provide support to fragile health systems. They will use their G7 Presidency in 2021 to promote a five-point global health security plan.
Girls education – The UK will support the global commitment to get 40 million girls into education and 20 million more girls reading by age of 10. They will co-host the Global Partnership for Education summit in 2021.
Science, research, and technology – research and development will continue to be a priority for UK ODA, with a focus on supporting research in health, education, resilience, low carbon technologies, agriculture and economic development, conflict, and poverty.
Open societies and conflict resolution – UK ODA will focus on strengthening democratic institutions, human rights, free media, and effective governance. Effective governance has been a long-standing priority for UK development and is likely to gain traction within the FCDO.
Trade and economic development – Under the new strategy, UK ODA will be more explicitly used to support UK trade priorities, including to help build trade and investment partners for the future. Through UK Export Finance and the CDC Group, the UK’s development finance institute, the UK will use ODA to improve trade and investment environments in partner countries through strengthening infrastructure and widening access to finance.
Humanitarian preparedness and response – The UK will continue to promote stronger collective responses to crises and famines while working to strengthen the multilateral systems' ability to respond. The FCDOs will maintain a crisis reserve enabling the UK to respond rapidly to future crises.
The final list of priority ODA partner countries is not yet clear, but the government has confirmed that they will focus on countries where the UK’s development, security, and economic interests align, for example, sub-Saharan Africa and the Indo-Pacific region. The UK may seek to build on the previous Conservative government’s (2016-19) efforts to build a more strategic partnership with Africa based on “trade, investment, shared values, and mutual interest”. There are indications that the FCDO will similarly try to strengthen UK relationships with the Indo-Pacific region, in what is being described as ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’. How this will affect ODA allocations is not yet clear.
UK ODA will be used in support of 7 key global channels:
As well as global health security, the UK intends to use its G7 Presidency to promote global goods, including COVID-19 vaccines and the climate crisis, liberal free trade, democracy, and human rights.
The UK is a strong supporter of multilateral initiatives, particularly in health. Under its new strategy, the UK will continue to make core investments to the multilateral development banks but based on new strategic objectives. The UK is the largest donor to Gavi, and virtually hosted Gavi’s third replenishment pledging conference in June 2020. It is also the largest donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE); the third-largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and among the largest funders of the Global Financing Facility (GFF). The UK has also increased its funding to the WHO and is now the second-largest funder to the organization.
The UK rapidly mobilized significant resources from its development assistance budget for the international COVID-19 responsemuch of which was channeled through multilateral initiatives, including the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) to support access to vaccines for low- and middle- income countries (LMICs and the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Catastrophe and Containment Relief Fund (CCRT).
UK’s mix of bilateral and multilateral spending is stable and aligns with DAC averages
The UK’s ratio of bilateral to multilateral spending is relatively stable. In 2018, 36% of the UK’s ODA was provided as core funding to multilaterals, slightly below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) average of 41%. On top of this, the UK channeled 19% of total ODA as earmarked funding through multilaterals organization, (ie. funding designated for a specific region or sector), slightly above the DAC average of 14%. The remaining 45% was spent bilaterally, in line with the DAC average of 45%. CSOs play an important role in implementing UK development assistance; in 2018, 16% of bilateral ODA was channeled through NGOs and civil society, close to the DAC average of 18%. The UK disburses almost all (99.8%) of its bilateral ODA as grants.
Humanitarian assistance and global health are the biggest sectors of UK bilateral ODA
Reflecting the UK’s strategic priorities, global health and humanitarian assistance received the largest volumes of the country’s bilateral ODA in 2018. US$1.8 billion (or 14%) went to global health, a similar proportion to recent years, while US$1.7 billion (or 14%) went to humanitarian assistance, down from US$1.9 billion (or 16%) in 2017.
Other large sectors included other multisector activities (US$1.2 billion or 10%), financial services and business support (US$1.0 billion or 8%), and government and civil society (US$1.0 billion or 8%). Consistent with the importance the UK places on promoting economic growth and prosperity in partner countries, financial services and business support was one of the sectors with the biggest percentage increase in allocation between 2017 and 2018 (US$1.0 billion compared to $0.6 billion in 2017). Education is the sixth-highest funded sector of UK bilateral ODA, receiving US$933 million in 2018, 4% less than 2017 and 30% less than 2016 when the UK made a number of large disbursements to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the Girls’ Education Challenge.
Bilateral ODA focuses on poorest countries and sub-Saharan Africa
The UK’s previous development strategy, ‘UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest’, published in 2015, committed the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to allocating at least half of its annual budget to fragile states and regions. It is not yet clear whether this commitment will be maintained in the forthcoming UK ODA strategy. Of total UK bilateral ODA allocated by region, 42% went to sub-Saharan Africa and 23% went to Asia in 2018. In 2018, 49% of bilateral ODA allocated by income group went to low-income countries (LICs).
The top recipients of the UK’s ODA in 2018 were Pakistan (US$444 million in 2018), Ethiopia (US$403 million), Nigeria (US$399 million), Afghanistan (US$333 million) and Syria (US$320 million).
The UK is the largest donor to multilaterals; funding is determined by ‘value-for-money’ assessments
The UK was the largest donor to multilaterals in 2018 in absolute terms. It provided US$7.1 billion (or 36% of its total ODA) in core contributions to multilateral organizations and US$3.7 billion (or 19% of its total ODA) in earmarked funding to multilaterals.
The largest recipients of core funding from the UK in 2018 were the World Bank (US$2.6 billion) and the European Union institutions (US$1.8 billion). The UK also made substantial core contributions to a host of other multilaterals including the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (US$480 million), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (US$266 million), the Green Climate Fund (US$261 million), and the International Finance Facility for Immunization (US$147 million).
They also contributed to a number of United Nations (UN) agencies, funds, and commissions including the Central Emergency Response Fund (US$147 million), the UN Development Programme (UNDP; US$73 million); UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF; US$64 million); and the World Food Programme (WFP; US$53 million).
The UK’s contributions to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were significantly lower in 2018 than in previous years (US$111 million compared to US$987 million in 2017 when the UK made substantial contributions to the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust.)
The UK reviews the performance of the multilateral agencies it funds through ‘Multilateral Development Reviews’. These assessments review the effectiveness of the organizations and evaluate the value for money of UK contributions.
Unless otherwise indicated, all data in this section is based on the cash-flow basis measurement system. For more information, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.
The newly created Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will lead on strategy setting and funding decisions
Since December 2019, the UK has a majority Conservative government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister can exercise significant influence over development policy, for example through funding commitments for international initiatives, however, the degree of involvement varies in practice.
In June 2020, the UK Prime Minister announced the merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to create a new department, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The newly formed FCDO leads on strategy setting and funding decisions on the UK’s development policy. It is led by the former UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, who represents both foreign affairs and development within the UK Cabinet. There will no longer be a separate Secretary of State for International Development. The FCDO has four Ministers of State and two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries each responsible for geographic and thematic priorities:
- The Rt. Hon James Clevery MP – Minister for Middle East and North Africa
- The Rt Hon Zac Goldsmith – Minister for the Pacific and Environment
- Nigel Adams MP – Minister for Asia
- Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon – Minister for South Asia and Commonwealth
- James Duddridge MP – Parliamentary Undersecretary for Africa
- Wendy Morton MP – Parliamentary Undersecretary for European Neighbourhood and Americas
The new department brings together staff from the former DFID and the former FCO under a single integrated executive management team led by Foreign Secretary. Sir Philip Barton, formerly the High Commissioner to New Delhi and Director-General of Consular and Security at the FCO has been appointed as the permanent under-secretary, the most senior civil servant of the new department. The executive team is comprised of five directors-general, appointed on an interim basis of five months to help manage the transition. The team also includes one political director, appointed on a permanent basis. Each Director-General leads on a specific geographic area and a set of thematic areas.
UK Ambassadors are now responsible for UK foreign and development work within partner countries and in-country FCDO staff report to them. How formerly DFID country offices and staff are further integrated into the UK Embassy system or how decentralized ODA decision-making will be at the country-level is not yet clear.
UK ODA programming is based on the budget given to FCDO by the Treasury through the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) process. CSRs usually set budgets for three to five years, however, the government conducted one-year Spending Rounds in 2019 and 2020 due to the economic uncertainty of Brexit and then the COVID-19 crisis. The 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review set out the following departmental priorities for the new FCDO:
- Ensure the UK is a force for good in the world, supporting sustainable development, humanitarian needs, and promoting human rights and democracy;
- Make the UK safer and more resilient to global threats; and
- Extend and amplify the UK’s influence in the world, including through successful application for the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) dialogue partner status.
The Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, has indicated that the FCDO will adopt a new management approach to assess development projects using input from Heads of Missions to rate performance against strategic objectives, effectiveness, impact, and value for money.
The FCDO is the sole shareholder of the CDC Group, the UK’s development finance institution. The CDC invests capital in businesses in Africa and South Asia, focusing on countries and sectors with the greatest potential to create sustainable growth and jobs.
Other government departments: Since 2015, the Conservative-led government has sought to allocate a greater proportion of ODA through other ministerial departments and cross-government funds. DFID was responsible for 73% of ODA in 2019, down from 81% in 2015. Other key actors disbursing UK ODA include the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which focused on strengthening global peace, security, governance, and prosperity; the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which largely funds climate-related projects and is now led by Alok Sharma, former DFID secretary of state; the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF); the Department for Health and Social Care; and the Home Office.
Cross-government oversight: New management structures will provide the FCDO Foreign Minister with greater oversight of how UK ODA is implemented by other government departments. The Foreign Secretary will run a cross-government process to review how ODA is allocated against the government’s priorities to ensure coherence and value.
Parliament: The UK Parliament is composed of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Within the House of Commons, ‘select committees’ review the work of ministerial departments. The International Development Committee was the select committee responsible for scrutinizing DFID’s policies, spending, and monitoring organizations receiving DFID funding. Following the announced merger, the government wrote to Parliament asking for the International Development Committee to be dissolved, and its duties to be taken up by Select Committee for Foreign Affairs under a remit expanded to include development. Dissolving the select committee requires a vote in Parliament that has not taken place yet. The government has announced that it will maintain the Independent Commission for Aid Impact but wants to enhance its impact and is undertaking a review of its structure and mandate. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) sits outside of government but, under the old structure, reported to the International Development Committee. The ICAI conducted in-depth reviews of the governance, policy, and financing of the UK’s development assistance.
In addition to select committees, All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are influential in UK policymaking, bringing together members of Parliament, the private sector, and civil society organizations (CSOs) on key policy issues including international development (e.g., the APPG on the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, the APPG on Global Education, the APPG on Global Health, the APPG on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, and the APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development).
Civil society: CSOs in the UK play a strong role in implementing development funding and shaping the agenda. They frequently engage with the government through formal and informal consultation processes. Bond, the UK’s membership body for development CSOs, has more than 400 member organizations and has been key in maintaining the UK’s strong commitment to development. DFID directly funded CSOs, both through its country offices and through DFID headquarters.
Academia, think tanks, and the media: Academic institutions (e.g., the London School of Economics, Sussex University’s Institute of Development Studies, and Birmingham’s International Development Department) and think tanks (e.g., the Center for Global Development and the Overseas Development Institute, Chatham House) play a significant role in the UK’s development policy. British medical journals (e.g., ‘The Lancet’, ‘The BMJ’, ‘PloS Medicine’) place a strong emphasis on global health issues. The online version of the newspaper ‘The Guardian’ has a designated section on development topics.
DFID was responsible for three quarters of the UK’s ODA
The former Department for International Development (DFID) was responsible for 73% of UK ODA in 2019, according to the UK government document ‘Statistics on International Development’. Most of the remaining budget was managed by other government departments, including the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (6%), the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO, 5%), the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (4%), and the Home Office (3%) in 2019.
The remaining ODA was not attributed to a particular department or ministry. In 2019, non-DFID EU attribution and Gift Aid constituted the largest components (3% and 1% respectively).
In FY 2019/20, DFID spent £11.1. billion (US$14.8 billion) through its various programs. In FY 2020/21, the newly created Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) had a planned budget of £11.1. billion (US$14.8 billion) (see table below for detailed breakdown). This was estimated on a ‘going concern basis’ i.e., assuming that sufficient funds will be made available to enable the new department to continue DFID’s existing activities.
The planned expenditure numbers detailed in the table were not formally submitted for Ministerial approval due to the COVID-19 crisis and are expected to be considerably altered due to the reduced budget announced in July 2020.
Overview: DFID's budget for FY2019-2020
|East and Central Africa Division||1,115||1,487|
|Asia, Caribbean and Overseas Territories Division||933||1,244|
|West and Southern Africa Division||715||954|
|Middle East and North Africa Division||639||852|
|Policy, Priorities, International Organisations and Humanitarian||7,236||9,651|
|Economic Development Division||2,596||3,462|
|International Relations Division||1,792||2,391|
|Research and Evidence Division||440||587|
|Conflict, Humanitarian, Security and Stabilization Division||372||496|
|Conflict, Stability and Security Fund||66||88|
|Non-Departmental Public Bodies||31||42|
|Other Central Programs||9||11|
|Crisis Reserve (central reserve)||200||267|
|Total DFID (not including cross-government funds)||11,052||14,741|
Annual budgets run from April to March
The UK budget process usually begins with the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which sets medium-term expenditure limits for government departments for the following three to five years and is led by the UK Treasury. The CSR development process is therefore an important opportunity to shape the UK’s overall long-term funding levels for development. In 2019 and 2020, the government conducted a fast-tracked one-year Spending Reviews, given the budget uncertainty associated with the UK’s departure from the EU and the COVID-19 crisis.
The last multi-year CSR in 2015 coincided with the creation of the UK’s current global-development strategy and contained explicit targets drawn from the strategy that the former Department for International Development and other parts of the UK government committed to delivering within the CSR period.
The UK’s FY runs from April to March. From FY2019/20, the UK intends to have a single ‘fiscal event’ each year, i.e., an annual budget in autumn. The annual process is supposed to be:
- Release of Spring Statement: In April, the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) releases its ‘Spring Statement’ providing an assessment of the UK’s economic and fiscal outlook. The Chancellor begins initial policy consultations on budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. The consultations feed into the autumn budget.
- Chancellor presents budget to Parliament: In autumn (usually October/November), the Chancellor presents the annual budget to Parliament, detailing proposals for taxation and overall spending limits for each ministerial department. Members of Parliament debate the annual budget in what is known as the ‘Budget Resolutions’. A Finance Act is then presented to Parliament to enact the budget proposals.
- Parliament debates and adopts the annual budget: Between autumn and spring (approximately October and April), Members of Parliament debate the budget resolutions and scrutinize the budget. A Finance Bill is introduced which aims to be passed by Parliament before the FY begins in April.
- Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) adjusts budget based on budget speech: Following the Chancellor’s budget speech, the FCDO begins annual resource allocation rounds (RAR) to adjust allocations of its annual budget to align with the budget ceiling set by the Chancellor.
The UK’s failure to leave the EU as planned on the October 31, 2019, and the snap election held in December 2019 meant that in 2020, the Autumn budget, originally scheduled for November 6, 2019, had to be delayed till March 11, 2020. The government postponed the FY2021/22 budget, scheduled for November, as the country suffered from a second wave of COVID-19. The budget process is instead planned for early 2021 before the beginning of the new financial year.