United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s commitment to international development reflects cross-party consensus and is central to its global brand. Its 2015 Aid Strategy sets out a whole-of-government approach to development co-operation and how development objectives support the national interest. Responsibility for planning, managing and accountability for ODA budgets is delegated to 15 government departments and 2 cross-government funds, with the Department for International Development (DFID) managing 70-75% of the budget (since 2016) and acting as spender of last resort. The United Kingdom champions the implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda through its work on domestic resource mobilisation and efforts to further engage the private sector in sustainable development, including the city of London. CDC Group, a development finance institute with DFID as the sole shareholder, has shifted its investments to fragile contexts in support of an inclusive prosperity agenda.

The latest OECD-DAC peer review of the United Kingdom is due to be launched in 2020.

The 2015 Aid Strategy sets out a broad direction of travel under four objectives: 1) strengthening global peace, security and governance; 2) strengthening resilience and response to crises; 3) promoting global prosperity; and 4) tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable. It is supplemented by more detailed single departmental plans and documents such as the bilateral and multilateral development reviews and civil society partnership review.

The United Kingdom has legislation in place to allocate 0.7% of its gross national income to ODA, to ensure gender equality and poverty reduction are considered in all official development assistance (ODA) spending. The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of the multilateral system and a diverse set of development actors, including the private sector, research institutes and civil society organisations (CSOs).

The United Kingdom provided more ODA in 2019 than in the previous year. Total ODA on a grant-equivalent basis stood at USD 19.4 billion (preliminary data), representing 0.7% of the United Kingdom’s gross national income (GNI) in 2019.1 Its ODA rose by 2.2% in real terms from 2018 due to an increase in its bilateral aid to offset decreases in its contributions to multilateral organisations.2 The United Kingdom has consistently provided 0.7% ODA/GNI since 2013 and has legislation in place to maintain this level. Among DAC member countries, the United Kingdom ranked fifth in relation to its ODA/GNI ratio and third in relation to its ODA volume in 2019. Under the cash-flow methodology used in the past, net ODA was USD 19.3 billion in 2019. Within the United Kingdom’s gross ODA portfolio in 2019 (USD 19.5 billion), 99.6% was provided in the form of grants and 0.4% in the form of non-grants.3

In 2018, the United Kingdom provided 0.23% of GNI as its total ODA to least developed countries (LDCs), making it one of the six DAC members to have surpassed the United Nations (UN) target of 0.2% of GNI to the LDCs. In line with the Aid Strategy, DFID spends at least 50% of its budget in countries and territories considered fragile or bordering fragile contexts. See the methodological notes for details on the definitions and statistical methodologies applied.

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In 2018, the United Kingdom provided most of its ODA bilaterally. Gross bilateral ODA was 64% of total ODA, of which 30% was channelled through multilateral organisations (earmarked contributions). The United Kingdom allocated 36% of total ODA as core contributions to multilateral organisations, including European Union (EU) institutions.

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In 2018, the United Kingdom increased its total support (core and earmarked contributions) to multilateral organisations. It provided USD 10.9 billion of gross ODA to the multilateral system, an increase of 3.3% in real terms from 2017. Of this, USD 7.1 billion was core multilateral ODA and the rest was earmarked for a specific country, region, theme or purpose. Project aid earmarked for a specific project or purpose (tight earmarking) accounted for 19% of the United Kingdom’s non-core contributions, while the remaining 81% was softly earmarked (to pooled funds and specific-purpose programmes and funds).

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In 2018, the United Kingdom’s total contribution to multilateral organisations was mainly allocated to the World Bank Group, the UN and the EU institutions. These contributions together accounted for more than 77% of the United Kingdom’s total support to the multilateral system. The UN system received 28%, mainly through earmarked contributions. Out of a total gross volume of USD 3.1 billion to the UN system, the top three UN recipients of the United Kingdom’s support (core and earmarked contributions) were: the United Nations Children’s Fund (USD 604 million), the World Food Programme (USD 600 million) and the World Health Organization (USD 248 million).

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Note: See the list of UN acronyms.

See the section on “Geographic and thematic focus of ODA” for the geographical and thematic breakdown of bilateral allocations earmarked through the multilateral development system. Learn more about multilateral development finance.

In 2018, the United Kingdom increased its bilateral spending compared to the previous year. It provided USD 12.5 billion as gross bilateral ODA (including earmarked contributions to multilateral organisations), which represented an increase of 3.5% in real terms from 2017.

In 2018, country programmable aid was 43% of the United Kingdom’s gross bilateral ODA, compared to a DAC country average of 49%.

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Note: NGO: non-governmental organisation.

In 2018, the United Kingdom channelled its bilateral ODA mainly through the public sector and through multilateral organisations as earmarked funding.

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Note: NGO: non-governmental organisation; PPP: public-private partnership.

In 2018, civil society organisations (CSOs) received USD 2 billion of gross bilateral ODA. Four per cent of gross bilateral ODA was allocated to CSOs as core contributions and 12% was channelled through CSOs to implement projects initiated by the United Kingdom (earmarked funding). Between 2017 and 2018, core and earmarked contributions to CSOs dropped as a share of bilateral ODA, from 20% to 16%. Learn more about ODA allocations to and through CSOs and civil society engagement in development co-operation.

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In 2018, the United Kingdom’s bilateral ODA was primarily focused on Africa and Asia. USD 3.9 billion was allocated to Africa and USD 3 billion to Asia, accounting respectively for 31% and 24% of gross bilateral ODA. Africa was also the main regional recipient of the United Kingdom’s earmarked contributions to multilateral organisations. Thirty-nine per cent of gross bilateral ODA was unspecified by region in 2018.

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Bilateral ODA by recipient country

In 2018, 25% of gross bilateral ODA went to the United Kingdom’s top 10 recipients, a declining share over time. The share of gross bilateral ODA that was not allocated by country was 52%, of which 7.4% represents core contributions to CSOs and 7.7% represents in-donor refugee costs. Allocations are in line with the Aid Strategy, with a focus on the LDCs and fragile contexts.

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In 2018, the LDCs received 25.8% of the United Kingdom’s gross bilateral ODA (USD 3.2 billion). This is above the DAC country average of 23.8% and represents the highest share, noting that 51% was unallocated by income group.

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Note: LDC: least developed country; LIC: low-income country; LMIC: lower middle-income country; UMIC: upper middle-income country; MADCTs: more advanced developing countries and territories.

Support to fragile contexts reached USD 4.9 billion of gross bilateral ODA in 2018 (39.2% of gross bilateral ODA). Extremely fragile contexts received 46.5% of this amount. Learn more about support to fragile contexts on the States of Fragility platform.

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Note: The chart represents only gross bilateral ODA that is allocated by country.

In 2018, most bilateral ODA was allocated to social infrastructure and services. Investments in this area accounted for 45% of bilateral ODA commitments (USD 3.6 billion), with a focus on health (USD 1.6 billion) and support to government and civil society (USD 1.3 billion). Bilateral humanitarian aid amounted to USD 221 million (3% of bilateral ODA). Earmarked contributions to multilateral organisations focused primarily on social infrastructure and services, economic infrastructure, and services and production sectors in 2018.

In 2018, the United Kingdom committed USD 19.9 million of ODA to the mobilisation of domestic resources in developing countries, amounting to 0.3% of bilateral allocable aid. The United Kingdom also committed USD 1.7 billion (24.5% of bilateral allocable aid) to promote aid for trade and improve developing countries’ trade performance and integration into the world economy in 2018.

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In 2018, the United Kingdom committed 46% of its bilateral allocable aid to gender equality and women’s empowerment as either a principal or significant objective (down from 47% in 2017),4 compared with the DAC country average of 42%. This is equal to USD 3.1 billion of bilateral ODA commitments in support of gender equality. Out of this, the share of bilateral allocable aid committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment as a principal objective was 2%, compared with the DAC country average of 4%. A significantly higher share of interventions on social infrastructure and services addresses gender equality than those on economic infrastructure. The United Kingdom screens virtually all activities against the gender marker (97.4% in 2018). Learn more about ODA focused on gender equality and the DAC Network on Gender Equality.

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In 2018, the United Kingdom committed 31% of its bilateral allocable aid (USD 2.1 billion) in support of the environment as either a principal or significant objective, up from 24% in 2017 (the DAC country average was 33%). Twenty-six per cent focused on environmental issues as a principal objective, compared with the DAC country average of 11%. Twenty-eight per cent (USD 2 billion) focused on climate change as either a principal or significant objective, up from 23% in 2017 (the DAC country average was 26%). The United Kingdom has a greater focus on mitigation (26% in 2018) than on adaptation (18%). Learn more about climate-related development finance.

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Data analysis for the OECD initiative Sustainable Oceans for All shows that the United Kingdom committed USD 82.2 million in support of the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean in 2018, amounting to 1.3% of bilateral allocable aid. Learn more about ODA focused on the ocean economy.

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In 2018, the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID); Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS); and its development finance institution, CDC Group, together mobilised USD 1 billion from the private sector through shares in collective investment vehicles (CIVs), direct investment in companies or project finance special purpose vehicles (SPVs), simple co-financing arrangements, and guarantees.

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Note: CIV: collective investment vehicle; SPV: special purpose vehicle.

Of the country-allocable finance mobilised from the private sector in 2017-18, 63% targeted middle-income countries, 22% the LDCs and 15% other low-income countries.

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Note: LDC: least developed country; LIC: low-income country; LMIC: lower middle-income country; UMIC: upper middle-income country.

The private finance mobilised by the United Kingdom in 2017-18 mainly related to activities in the energy (27%); banking and financial services (22%); industry, mining and construction (17%); and general environmental protection (5%) sectors. Learn more about the amounts mobilised from the private sector for development.

The Department for International Development (DFID) is the primary government department managing the United Kingdom’s ODA budget and the Secretary of State for International Development is a member of cabinet. The United Kingdom’s Aid Strategy increased the proportion of the ODA budget managed outside of DFID, including through cross-government funds. DFID supports other departments and cross-government funds to build capability to manage ODA in a range of different ways, and mechanisms exist to ensure a whole-of-government approach to managing ODA, including through the National Security Council, an ODA Ministers Group and a Senior Officials Group.

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Each UK government department delivering ODA is responsible for its evaluation policy and evaluation function. DFID offers evaluation-related support to other aid-spending government departments. Within DFID, the Evaluation Unit, which is located in the Research & Evidence Division, supports the evaluation system, leading on the implementation of DFID’s evaluation policy and strategy. The key components of the evaluation strategy were published in the Evaluation Annual Report 2018-19, which outlines a move towards a combined system of decentralised evaluations with evaluations commissioned centrally. The forthcoming evaluation policy guides the independence of DFID’s evaluation and provides detail on the strategy, covering evaluations led by both the Evaluation Unit and spending units. The Independent Commission on Aid Impact plans and undertakes performance, learning and impact reviews of DFID and other government departments that spend ODA. Learn more about evaluation in the United Kingdom.

Visit the DAC Evaluation Resource Centre website for evaluations of the United Kingdom’s development co-operation.

Explore the Monitoring Dashboard of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation.

2020 OECD-DAC peer review of the United Kingdom (forthcoming): https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/development/oecd-development-co-operation-peer-reviews_23097132?page=1

Department for International Development (DFID): https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-international-development

CDC Group, the United Kingdom’s Development Finance Institute: https://www.cdcgroup.com/en/

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ODA strategy: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/beis-official-development-assistance-research-and-innovation

Member of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) since 1961.

The methodological notes provide further details on the definitions and statistical methodologies applied, including the grant-equivalent methodology, core and earmarked contributions to multilateral organisations, country programmable aid, channels of delivery, bilateral ODA unspecified/unallocated, bilateral allocable aid, the gender equality policy marker, and the environment markers.

← 1. DAC members adopted the grant-equivalent methodology starting from their reporting of 2018 data as a more accurate way to count the provider’s effort in development loans. See the methodological notes for further details.

← 2. The decrease in contributions to multilateral organisation in part reflects that the contributions of national governments and the payment schedules of the receiving organisations are managed on different multi-year cycles.

← 3. All 2019 statistics in this paragraph are expressed in current prices and, therefore, they may differ from values in the ODA volume chart, which uses constant prices. Non-grants include sovereign loans, multilateral loans, equity investment and loans to the private sector.

← 4. The use of the recommended minimum criteria for the marker by some members in recent years can result in lower levels of aid reported as being focused on gender equality.

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https://doi.org/10.1787/2dcf1367-en

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