The UK’s aid budget – what you need to know

Boris Johnson has promised a £16.5 billion increase in defence spending but there is speculation the axe could fall on the aid budget to help fund it.

How much does the UK spend on overseas aid?

The UK, in line with an international target, is committed to spending 0.7% of its gross national income on overseas aid.

In 2019 the total aid budget was £15.2 billion but as the target is linked to the health of the economy the amount is expected to shrink in any event as a result of the impact of coronavirus.

In July, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab set out a £2.9 billion package of cuts for 2020, while still committing to the 0.7% target which is enshrined in law.

Could further cuts be coming?

The Prime Minister has refused to guarantee that the 0.7% commitment will be kept.

Reports have suggested it could be cut to 0.5%, adding to the cash reductions that are already expected due to the economic hit from coronavirus.

Downing Street said the law – the International Development Act – acknowledged “there may be circumstances in which the Government is not able to meet the 0.7% commitment”.

But the Tory election manifesto in 2019 said Mr Johnson would “proudly maintain our commitment” to aid spending.

Why is the aid budget controversial?

Critics have argued that at a time of constrained public finances, money should be spent in the UK rather than overseas.

There has also been criticism of the projects aid money has been spent on, including funds going to China – although bilateral aid programmes there were closed in 2011.

A ring-fenced budget for official development assistance (ODA) also means that when belts have to be tightened in Whitehall, other areas of spending suffer more because the 0.7% is considered off limits.

The UK is one of only nine members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s development assistance committee to have met the 0.7% target – the US refuses to acknowledge it.

So why not scrap the target?

The UK remains one of the world’s wealthiest nations and supporters of overseas aid view it as both a moral obligation and a political benefit to maintain an aid programme.

Supporters of aid programmes say they can improve livelihoods and security in some of the world’s most troubled regions, helping reduce global instability and providing a benefit to the UK.

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