United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s development co-operation architecture and policy changed significantly in 2020 with the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU). The 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy increases attention to fragility, climate change and global health security. Total official development assistance (ODA) (USD 15.8 billion, preliminary data) decreased substantially in 2021, representing 0.50% of gross national income (GNI).

Find the methodological notes behind the profile here.

The 2022 UK Government’s Strategy for International Development sets out four priorities: 1) delivering investment; 2) gender equality; 3) humanitarian assistance; and 4) climate change, nature and global health. The strategy articulates several delivery shifts, including towards bilateral ODA and expanding the use of British expertise.

While the new strategy foresees the share of the United Kingdom’s ODA for multilateral co-operation to decline (to reach 25% of total ODA by 2025), it stresses that multilateral partnerships will remain essential, notably with the United Nations (UN) system, international financial institutions, global funds for health, education and climate, and the Commonwealth. The FCDO Outcome Delivery Plan: 2021 to 2022 sets out the United Kingdom’s ambition to influence key international objectives. Through its presidencies of the G7 and COP 26 in 2021, the United Kingdom sought to garner international support for climate change and protect democratic values and preserve the space for resilient and open societies to flourish. It uses a whole-of-government approach to tackle illicit financial flows and corruption.

The 2020 OECD-DAC peer review of the United Kingdom was published as leadership for development co-operation moved to the new FCDO. The review commended the United Kingdom’s approach to learning and commitment to stabilisation and recognised its convening power and commitment to poverty reduction and gender equality. The review also highlighted the United Kingdom’s focus on fragile contexts, including through its development finance institution, CDC Group (now British International Investment). The review encouraged more transparency and dialogue with partners beyond their role as implementers and encouraged the United Kingdom to continue to allocate at least 0.7% of its GNI to ODA and retain the legislative requirement to have a direct line of sight between ODA and poverty reduction. Learn more about the United Kingdom’s 2020 OECD-DAC peer review.

The United Kingdom provided USD 15.8 billion (preliminary data) of ODA in 2021,1 representing 0.50% of GNI. This was a decrease of 21.22% in real terms in volume and a decrease in share of GNI from 2020. In 2021 the United Kingdom’s temporarily decreased its ODA/GNI ratio from the 0.7% commitment following the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic . Within the United Kingdom’s ODA portfolio in 2020, 93.9% was provided in the form of grants and 6.1% in the form of non-grants.2

The United Kingdom ranks 8th among 29 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member countries when ODA is taken as a share of GNI, and 4th in terms of ODA volume. The decrease in ODA/GNI in 2021 was the first time since 2013 that the United Kingdom did not meet the 0.7% target. The United Kingdom has set out fiscal conditions to enable the return to 0.7%, underlining the commitment to the International Development Act 2015. Among DAC members in 2020, it committed one of the highest shares of its screened bilateral allocable aid towards gender equality (75.6%). It provides very significant core contributions to multilateral organisations (USD 7.1 billion in 2020). It also provides very high shares of untied ODA.

The United Kingdom is committed to several international targets and Development Assistance Committee standards recommendations. Learn more about DAC recommendations.

The United Kingdom provided a higher share of its ODA bilaterally in 2020. Gross bilateral ODA was 63.6% of total ODA. Twenty-eight per cent of gross bilateral ODA was channelled through multilateral organisations (earmarked contributions). The United Kingdom allocated 36.4% of total ODA as core contributions to multilateral organisations.

In 2020, the United Kingdom provided USD 2.1 billion of gross bilateral ODA for the COVID-19 response, representing 17.2% of its total gross bilateral ODA. Three per cent of total gross bilateral ODA was provided as health expenditure within the COVID-19 response.

In 2020, the United Kingdom provided USD 10.5 billion of gross ODA to the multilateral system, a fall of 3.6% in real terms from 2019. Of this, USD 7.1 billion was core multilateral ODA, while non-core contributions were earmarked for a specific country, region, theme or purpose. Project-type funding that is earmarked for a specific theme and/or country accounted for 22.6% of the United Kingdom’s non-core contributions and 77.4% was programmatic funding (to pooled funds and specific-purpose programmes and funds).

Sixty-eight per cent of the United Kingdom’s total contributions to multilateral organisations in 2020 was allocated to other multilateral institutions, EU institutions and the World Bank Group.

The UN system received 28.6% of the United Kingdom’s gross ODA to the multilateral system, mainly through earmarked contributions. Out of a total volume of USD 3.0 billion to the UN system, the top three UN recipients of the United Kingdom’s support (core and earmarked contributions) were: the WFP (USD 664.4 million), UNICEF (USD 591.1 million) and WHO (USD 300.6 million).

See the section on Geographic and sectoral focus of ODA for the breakdown of bilateral allocations, including ODA earmarked through the multilateral development system. Learn more about multilateral development finance.

In 2020, the United Kingdom’s bilateral spending declined compared to the previous year. It provided USD 12.4 billion of gross bilateral ODA (which includes earmarked contributions to multilateral organisations). This represented a decrease of 12.5% in real terms from 2019.

In 2020, country programmable aid was 34.3% of the United Kingdom’s gross bilateral ODA, compared to a DAC country average of 49.7%. In-donor refugee costs were USD 805.2 million in 2020, an increase of 24.2% in real terms over 2019, and represented 4.1% of the United Kingdom’s total gross ODA.

In 2020, the United Kingdom channelled bilateral ODA mainly through the public sector and multilateral organisations, as earmarked funding. Technical co-operation made up 7.7% of gross ODA in 2020.

In 2020, civil society organisations (CSOs) received USD 2.1 billion of gross bilateral ODA. Four per cent of gross bilateral ODA was allocated to CSOs as core contributions and 13.3% was channelled through CSOs to implement projects initiated by the donor (earmarked funding). From 2019 to 2020, the combined core and earmarked contributions for CSOs increased as a share of bilateral ODA, from 15.0% to 16.9%. Learn more about ODA allocations to and through CSOs, civil society engagement in development co-operation, and the DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid.

In 2020, the United Kingdom’s bilateral ODA was primarily focused on Africa and Asia. USD 3.4 billion was allocated to Africa and USD 1.6 billion to Asia, accounting respectively for 27.1% and 13.1% of gross bilateral ODA. USD 0.9 billion was allocated to ODA-eligible countries in the Middle East. Africa and Asia were also the main regional recipients of the United Kingdom’s earmarked contributions to multilateral organisations, in line with the policy priorities of its overall strategy.

In 2020, 21.3% of gross bilateral ODA went to the United Kingdom’s top 10 recipients. Its top 10 recipients are fragile and/or priority countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The share of gross bilateral ODA that was not allocated by country was 55.8%, due to multi-country programmes, core CSO funding and expenditure for in-donor refugees costs.

In 2020, least developed countries (LDCs) received 23.8% of the United Kingdom’s gross bilateral ODA (USD 2.9 billion). This is in line with the DAC country average of 24.4%. The United Kingdom allocated the second-highest share of gross bilateral ODA (12.2%) to lower middle-income countries in 2020, noting that 55.8% was unallocated by income group. The United Kingdom allocated 0.6% of gross bilateral ODA to small island developing states (SIDS) in 2020, equal to USD 73.6 million.

Support to fragile contexts reached USD 4.0 billion in 2020, representing 31.9% of the United Kingdom’s gross bilateral ODA. Thirty-five per cent of this ODA was provided in the form of humanitarian assistance, increasing slightly from 33.8% in 2019, while 12.8% was allocated to peace, a slight decrease from 13.8% in 2019. Five per cent went to conflict prevention, a subset of contributions to peace, representing a minor decrease from 5.6% in 2019.

Learn more about support to fragile contexts on the States of Fragility platform.

In 2020, social infrastructure and services was the largest focus of the United Kingdom’s bilateral ODA. Investments in this area accounted for 32.3% of bilateral ODA commitments (USD 2.2 billion), with a strong focus on health (USD 1.0 billion) and support to government and civil society (USD 0.9 billion). ODA for economic infrastructure and services totalled USD 1.2 billion, with a focus on financial and business services (USD 0.9 billion). Bilateral humanitarian assistance amounted to USD 1.0 billion (15.1% of bilateral ODA). Earmarked contributions to multilateral organisations focused primarily on humanitarian assistance, social sectors and governance in 2020.

In 2020, the United Kingdom committed USD 10.4 million of bilateral ODA to the mobilisation of domestic resources in developing countries, amounting to 0.2% of its bilateral allocable aid. The United Kingdom also committed USD 1.7 billion (30.6% of its bilateral allocable aid) to promote aid for trade and improve developing countries’ trade performance and integration into the world economy in 2020. The United Kingdom is among the top 10 providers of aid for trade globally.

In 2020, the United Kingdom committed 75.6% of its screened bilateral allocable aid to gender equality and women’s empowerment, as either a principal or significant objective (up from 60% in 2019),3 compared with the 2020 DAC country average of 44.6%. This is equal to USD 4.1 billion of bilateral ODA in support of gender equality. The share of screened bilateral allocable aid committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment as a principal objective was 5.5%, compared with the 2020 DAC country average of 4.8%. There is a high focus on gender equality in most sectors, with a significantly smaller share in the water and sanitation sector. The United Kingdom screens virtually all activities against the DAC gender equality policy marker (96.3% in 2020). Learn more about ODA focused on gender equality, the DAC Network on Gender Equality and the DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation in Development Co-operation.

In 2020, the United Kingdom committed 37.9% of its total bilateral allocable aid (USD 2.1 billion) in support of the environment and the Rio Convention (the DAC country average was 38.8%), up from 24.4% in 2019. Nine per cent of screened bilateral allocable aid focused on environmental issues as a principal objective, compared with the DAC country average of 10.8%. Thirty-six per cent of total bilateral allocable aid (USD 2.0 billion) focused on climate change overall, up from 22.7% in 2019 (the DAC country average was 34%). The United Kingdom had a greater focus on mitigation (30.2%) than on adaptation (10.9%) in 2020. Learn more about climate-related development finance and the DAC Declaration on Aligning Development Co-operation with the Goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The OECD initiative Sustainable Oceans for All shows that the United Kingdom committed USD 20.3 million in support of the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean in 2020, 81.7% less than in 2019. The 2020 value is equivalent to 0.4% of the United Kingdom’s bilateral allocable aid. Learn more about development co-operation in support of a sustainable ocean economy and the data platform on development finance for a sustainable ocean economy.

The United Kingdom provides resource flows to developing countries beyond ODA and makes use of leveraging instruments to mobilise private finance for development.

The United Kingdom uses its ODA and other official development finance to mobilise private finance for development. In 2020, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; the FCDO; CDC Capital Partners PLC (now British International Investment); the Prosperty Fund; and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs together mobilised USD 1.5 billion from the private sector through direct investment in companies and special purpose vehicles, shares in collective investment vehicles, and to a lesser extent simple co-financing and credit lines.

A share of 36% targeted middle-income countries and 2% the LDCs in 2020, noting that 62% was unallocated by income. Furthermore, USD 25.1 million was mobilised for fragile contexts and USD 8.2 million for SIDS.

Private finance mobilised by the United Kingdom in 2020 related mainly to activities in the energy (52%); banking and financial services (18%); and agriculture, forestry and fishing (7%) sectors. Moreover, 65% of the United Kingdom’s total private finance mobilised was for climate change mitigation and/or adaptation.

Learn more about the amounts mobilised from the private sector for development.

Since September 2020, the FCDO manages the bulk of the United Kingdom’s ODA, following the merger with the Department for International Development (DFID). Under a dedicated whole-of-government approach, a number of departments are active in development co-operation and specific cross-government funds exist. Adjustments to structures and co-ordination mechanisms are expected to follow from the 2021 Integrated Review. The International Development Committee in Parliament continues to be responsible for scrutiny of UK aid and ODA expenditure, including by the FCDO, and taking forward the work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

The United Kingdom will draw upon the expertise of the private sector, civil society and academia to advise and challenge on its implementation of the International Development Strategy. Civil society organisations active in development co-operation, humanitarian assistance and global citizenship education co-ordinate through the umbrella body BOND.

Internal systems and processes help ensure the effective delivery of the United Kingdom’s development co-operation. Select features are shown in Features of the United Kingdom’s systems for quality and oversight.

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

Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO): https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-development-office

British International Investment (former CDC Group), the United Kingdom’s development finance institutehttps://www.bii.co.uk

CSO platform Bond: https://www.bond.org.uk

United Kingdom’s practices on the Development Co-operation TIPs: Tools Insights Practices learning platform: https://www.oecd.org/development-cooperation-learning?tag-key+partner=united+kingdom

Member of the OECD Development Assistance Committee 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 donor effort in development loans. See the methodological notes for further details.

← 2. Non-grants include sovereign loans, multilateral loans, equity investment and loans to the private sector.

← 3. 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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