United Kingdom

At a glance

Funding trends

  • The United Kingdom (UK) is the third-largest donor country in absolute terms, spending $18.6 billion (current prices) on official development assistance (ODA) in 2020 according to the preliminary data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
  • The UK is the sixth-largest donor when considering ODA as a proportion of gross national income (GNI). ODA volumes fell by 10% from US$19.4 billion in 2019 to US$17.4 billion in 2020 (2019 constant prices) as the UK government reduced ODA to meet the 0.7% ODA-to-GNI target.  It has met the target every year between 2013 and 2020 and enshrined it into law in 2015.
  • In 2021, the UK government intends to temporarily provide ODA equivalent to only 0.5% of GNI because of the negative economic impacts of COVID-19. The UK may continue to provide 0.5% of GNI in 2022 or until “the fiscal situation allows” for an increase. ODA is expected to fall by 27% from US$17.4 billion in 2020 to US$12.8 billion in 2021 (2019 prices). 

Strategic priorities

  • In September 2020, the UK launched the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) by merging the former Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The government seeks to promote greater alignment between the UK’s development assistance and foreign policy objectives.
  • The UK government published an Integrated Review of UK Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and Development in March 2021 to enhance its global reach by aligning these thematic areas. The 2021 Integrated Review called for the UK to focus on science and technology, climate change, global health, and supporting an open international order.
  • The FCDO Secretary of State announced seven key priorities for guiding UK ODA in fiscal year (FY) 2021/22. These priorities align with the priorities of the Integrated Review and include a focus on girls’ education and global health security (see ‘Policy priorities’).
Download

Outlook

  • The UK government plans to set out a new international development strategy in 2021 that will align UK development assistance with the strategic objectives of the Integrated Review.
  • A new Comprehensive Spending Review will be announced in October or November 2021 that will set the budget for the FCDO potentially for the next 3 to 5 years. The Spending Review will likely be tied to said 2021 development strategy.
  • The UK’s collaboration with the EU on development assistance after its withdrawal from the EU in January 2021 (‘Brexit’) remains undefined and is likely to be tied to the outcome of negotiations in other areas.

Policy Priorities

Alignment between the UK’s development strategy and foreign policy objectives is increasing

The UK government plans to set out a new international development strategy to align UK development assistance with the strategic objectives of the 2021 Integrated Review of UK Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and Development published in March 2021. The new strategy is also likely to be aligned to the outcomes of the UK Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review in October or November 2021. The Integrated Review sets out four strategic objectives: 1) promoting the UK’s strategic advantage through a focus on science and technology; 2) continued UK leadership to shape an open international order; 3) strengthening security and defense at home and overseas; and 4) building resilience at home and overseas (e.g., climate change and global health).       

The Integrated Review combines the various interests of the UK government in its global outreach. It identified the increasing strategic importance of China and the Indo-Pacific region, the rising competition between states and between democratic and authoritarian values, the fast pace of technological change, and transnational challenges such as climate change, global health risks, terrorism, and organized crime. It called for an Indo-Pacific tilt that goes beyond development cooperation with the goal of the UK having the most integrated presence in the region of all European partners by 2030. The review also highlights South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ghana as key partners in shared prosperity goals, democratic values, and security interests.

In April 2021, the Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) provided further policy guidance on UK’s ODA for the FY2021/22. The FCDO budget sets out the following seven key priorities: 1) climate change 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’s geographical focus in FY2021/22 prioritizes Africa, South Asia, and the Indo-Pacific region with nearly 83% of its bilateral ODA budget allocated towards Africa, particularly East Africa, South Asia, and the Indo-Pacific region. The Center for Global Development suggests that climate change and biodiversity, COVID-19 and global health security, and humanitarian preparedness and response will comparatively increase in importance in 2021. Policy priorities beyond the above remain uncertain, but the UK’s support to multilateral organizations is expected to remain overall.

Historically, gender equality was a leading policy priority for the UK government, but FCDO’s policy approach to gender equality is unclear. In 2014, the International Development (Gender Equality) Act made it a legal requirement that UK development assistance delivers poverty reduction in a way that also contributes to reducing gender inequality. The former Department for International Development (DFID) ‘2018-2030 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality’ highlights the government’s five key priorities, which are 1) addressing gender-specific barriers to inclusive economic growth; 2) increasing the number of women in informal and formal decision-making structures, including conflict prevention and peacekeeping; 3) girls’ education, particularly girls with disabilities; 4) promoting universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR); and 5) eliminating gender-based violence. UK parliamentarians have urged the FCDO to adopt the Strategic Vision, but the FCDO has not yet formally adopted the strategy. The 2021 Integrated Review mentions gender equality, but focuses primarily on girls’ education (see ‘Education’).

The UK government unveiled a new five-year (2021-2026) global action plan on girls' education with the following commitments: 1) shape a renewed international effort to ensure the world is on track to reach the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on 'Quality Education'; 2) use its network of British Ambassadors and High Commissioners to support committed national governments in enhancing their efforts to improve girls’ education; and 3) establish global public goods for education.

The Bilateral Development Review (BDR), Multilateral Development Review (MDR), Civil Society Partnership Review used to play a key role in shaping the UK’s bilateral and multilateral approaches to development funding. Under the new FDCO, it is unclear whether these processes will remain.

UK ODA will be used in support of 7 key global channels:

  1. Climate change 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

  7. Humanitarian preparedness and response

ODA Breakdown

UK’s mix of bilateral and multilateral spending is stable and aligns with DAC averages

The UK provided US$6.3 billion or 32% of its total ODA as core contribution to multilaterals in 2019, down from US$7.0 billion or 36% in 2018. This is below the DAC average of 41%. The UK channeled (US$4.0 billion) or 20% of its total ODA as earmarked funding through multilaterals organizations, meaning funding designated for a specific sector or region, slightly above the DAC average of 14%. The remaining US$9.3 billion or 48% was spent bilaterally, in line with the DAC average of 45%.

The UK channels US$1.2 billion or 9% of ODA through private sector institutions, above the DAC average of 4%. The large share of funding through private sector institutions reflects in part the UK’s reliance on private sector contractors and consultants to carry out project implementation.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) implemented US$2.0 billion or 15% of the UK’s bilateral programs in 2019, below the DAC average of 20%. CSOs in the UK play a strong role in implementing development funding and shaping the UK’s development agenda. Disbursements to CSOs are framed by the Civil Society Partnership review which outlines a competitive and results-focused civil society organization funding model.

 

Humanitarian assistance and global health are the biggest sectors of UK bilateral ODA

Reflecting its strategic priorities, the UK focuses a significant share of its bilateral ODA on humanitarian assistance and global health, as well as financial services and business support.

Humanitarian assistance was the largest sector of bilateral funding in 2019, accounting for US$2.0 billion or 15% of bilateral ODA, a 16% increase from the US$1.7 billion provided in 2018. The related sector of conflict, peace, and security accounted for an additional US$543 million or 4% of bilateral ODA, down from US$597 million in 2018. Global health is the second-largest sector of bilateral support in 2019, accounting for US$1.9 billion or 14% of ODA, up from US$1.8 billion in 2018.

Other large sectors in 2019 included other multisectoral activities (US$1.3 billion or 9%), financial services and business support (US$1.2 billion or 9%), and government and civil society (US$1.2 billion or 9%). Consistent with the importance the UK is placing on promoting economic growth and prosperity in partner countries, financial services and business support grew by 78% between 2016 and 2019.

Download

Bilateral ODA focuses on the poorest countries and Africa, MENA, and Asia

According to OECD data, 22% of the UK’s ODA allocation by income in 2019 was channeled to low-income countries (22%) and lower-middle-income countries (18%). More than half (52%) of the UK’s bilateral ODA was not allocated by income.

The top recipients of UK ODA in 2019 were Afghanistan (US$403 million), Pakistan (US$390 million), Ethiopia (US$383 million), Bangladesh (US$334 million), Yemen (US$332 million), and Nigeria (US$330 million). Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria are likely to remain high on the list of recipients as they are of strategic importance to the UK in their respective regions and contain a large and growing number of the world’s poor.

The FCDO’s geographical focus for bilateral support in FY2021/22 is Africa (±50%), South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region (±33%). In Africa, the focus will be particularly on East Africa.

Download
Download

The UK is one of the largest donors to multilaterals

The UK was one of the largest donors to multilaterals in 2019 in absolute terms. It provided US$6.3 billion or 32% of its total ODA in core contributions to multilateral organizations and US$4 billion or 20% of its total ODA in earmarked funding to multilaterals.

The largest recipients of core funding from the UK in 2019 were the European Union institutions (EUI; US$2.3 billion) and the World Bank (US$1.2 billion). The UK also made substantial core contributions to a host of multilaterals including the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund; US$472 million), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi; US$255 million), and the International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIm; US$152 million).

The UK also contributed to several United Nations (UN) agencies, funds, and commissions including the Central Emergency Response Fund (US$383 million), the UN Development Programme (UNDP; US$70 million); and the World Food Programme (WFP; US$51 million).

2019 was the first year since 2014 that the UK did not make any core contributions to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Disbursements were significantly lower in 2018 than in previous years (US$108 million compared to US$964 million in 2017 when the UK made substantial contributions to the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust).

 

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.

For more granular and up-to-date development finance data on the UK, including information on where and in which sectors it is spending both ODA and non-ODA funds, please consult the IATI d-portal. IATI is a reporting standard and platform on which organizations and governments voluntarily publish data on their development cooperation.

Main Actors

The newly created FCDO leads on strategy setting and funding decisions relating to development assistance

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.

The newly formed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), created through a merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), was established in September 2020. It leads on strategy setting and funding decisions on the UK’s development policy and is led by the former UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, who represents both foreign affairs and development within the UK Cabinet. There is no longer a separate Secretary of State for International Development. 

At a recipient country level, UK Ambassadors lead on all UK foreign and development work with development specialists reporting to the Ambassador. Decision-making within former DFID was very decentralized. The FCDO has yet to determine its decentralization approach. 

UK country programming remains based on a budget given to FCDO by the Treasury through the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) process. CSRs usually set budgets for three to five years. The government conducted one-year Spending Rounds in 2019 and 2020 instead due to the economic uncertainty of Brexit and then the COVID-19 crisis. Departments are typically expected to set out high-level priorities based on this budget in a multi-year business plan referred to as the Single Departmental Plan. The FCDO’s Embassies will then develop Operational Plans (OPs) to guide bilateral cooperation within each partner country based on the priorities of the Single Departmental Plan.

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. The FCDO was responsible for 74% of ODA in 2020 (according to UK government provisional ODA statistics), 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) was responsible for 7%; the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) was responsible for 4%; the Department for Health and Social Care 2%; and the Home Office 4%.

Cross-government oversight: The FCDO is responsible for the final allocation of ODA to other government departments in a drive to improve coordination. The FCDO will assess all programs on their alignment with UK's strategic objectives, value for money, and impact and will result in almost 94% of the UK's ODA being managed or allocated by the FCDO in FY2021/22. Respective government departments remain responsible for ensuring the programs meet the international standards for Official Development Assistance (ODA) set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and impact delivery.  The former DFID was not responsible for cross-governmental ODA allocations.

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 is the select committee responsible for scrutinizing the UK’s ODA policies and expenditure of organizations receiving UK ODA funding. It has not been merged into the International Foreign Affairs Committee after the creation of the FCDO but remains a separate committee.

The UK has an Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) which sits outside of government but reports to the International Development Committee. The ICAI conducts in-depth reviews of the governance, policy, and financing of the UK’s development assistance. After the merger of DFID and FCO, the UK government reviewed ICAI and has called on the ICAI’s role to be expanded so that it can provide advice and evidence to Ministers beyond evaluation. 

All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are also 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).

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 civil society organizations, has more than 400 member organizations and has been key in maintaining the UK’s strong commitment to development. The FCDO directly funds these organizations, both through its country offices and at headquarters.

UK Org Chart

Budget Structure

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 (BEIS; 6%), the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO, 5%), the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF; 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 FY2019/20, DFID spent £11.1. billion (US$14.8 billion) through its various programs. In FY2020/21, 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’ meaning that the assumption was made 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: FCDO's ODA allocations for FY2020/21

millions
£

millions
US$

Climate change and biodiversity 534 681
COVID and global health 1,305 1,665
Girls' education 400 510
Humanitarian preparedness and response 906 1,156
Open societies and conflict 419 535
Science, research and technology 38 (plus thematic R&D) 48
Trade and economic development 491 627
Financial transactions 863 1,101
Programs with cross-cutting themes 1,940 2,476
ALBs, International Subscriptions and other fixed costs 1,219 1,556
Total 8,115 10,356

Budget Process

The UK’s fiscal year runs 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 an important opportunity to shape the UK’s overall long-term funding levels for development. In 2019 and 2020, the government conducted one-year Spending Rounds due to the economic uncertainty of Brexit and then 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 DFID and other parts of the UK government committed to delivering within the CSR period. The UK government is set to hold its next CRS in October or November 2021 and it is hoped it will set the expenditures for multiple years.

From FY2019/20, the UK intends to have a single ‘fiscal event’ each year, i.e., an annual budget in October or November. 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.
  • Chancellor presents the budget to Parliament: Usually October/November, the Chancellor presents the annual budget to Parliament. The budget proposals do not include detailed budget lines for individual departments and therefore do not have a significant impact on ODA-related funding or policy decisions.
  • Parliament debates and adopts the annual budget: In 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 fiscal year begins in April.
  • FCDO adjusts budget based on budget speech: 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 “Autumn” budget, originally scheduled for November 2019, was delayed till March 2020 due to the UK’s delayed exit from the EU. Given the economic uncertainty caused by the second wave of COVID-19, the Chancellor did not hold another budget in Autumn 2020 as originally intended, instead opting for additional budgetary statements. The FY2021/22 budget was presented in March 2021.

budget process chart