UK ODA fell by US$937 million in 2020 in major budget reform

The UK government released its official statistics on international development for 2020 on September 30, 2021; the report shows that the UK spent £14.5 billion (US$19.3 billion) in official development assistance (ODA) in 2020.

While the government kept its commitment to spend 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on ODA, the actual budget decreased by £698 million (US$963 million) - 4.6% - due to the UK's shrinking economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Budget cuts were made during the middle of 2020, as the government stated it wanted to meet but not exceed its 0.7% GNI ODA target. 

The official statistics reveal:

  • A shift toward multilateral ODA - multilateral ODA rose by 3.6% (£173m); 
  • Bilateral ODA fell by 8.4% (£871 million) compared to 2019, which may indicate that the cuts in the budget predominately fell on the bilateral program. Eight of the 14 top thematic sectors of UK bilateral ODA received a reduced budget; 
  • Health initiatives accounted for 16.7% of UK bilateral ODA, taking the top spot- the health sector as the largest spend area for UK bilateral ODA, increasing by £164 million (US$220 million) in 2020, compared to 2019. Within health, the top three spending areas were: Medical Research (£373 million (US$501 million)), COVID-19 response (£317 million (US$439 million)), and infectious disease control (£169 million (US$227 million)).
  • The largest cut was to the education sector with spending reduced by 31%. 
  • The African continent continues to receive the majority of UK region-specific ODA – It received over half (52%) of all UK region-specific bilateral ODA in 2020, but the amount of bilateral ODA provided to the region decreased by £375 million (US$503 million) in 2020. The top three recipients of UK bilateral country-specific ODA were Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Somalia.
  • In 2020, the UK estimates that it spent £1.6 billion (US$2.2 billion) of its bilateral ODA on COVID-19 pandemic response.
  • The EU remains the largest recipient of UK multilateral ODA, accounting for 31% of all UK Multilateral core ODA, followed by the World Bank’s IDA (19%) and then the Global Fund (10%).
  • NGOs have criticized the UK government's lack of transparency and are requesting access to the original 2020 ODA budget spending plans in order to adequately assess cuts. 

Report – UK Final Statistics on International Development 2020

News article – BOND