Foreign aid: Who will be hit by the UK government cuts?

By Reality Check team
BBC News

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image source, Getty Images
image captionUK funds have helped deliver aid for Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar

The government's decision to cut spending on foreign aid has led to warnings from aid agencies and opposition from MPs, including some Conservatives.

This year, the annual aid budget has been reduced to 0.5% of national income. It had been at 0.7% since 2015 and this figure was a "commitment" in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. The difference between the two figures is around four billion pounds.

The government says the reduction is temporary and will reverse it but only when certain conditions are met.

It has seen off an attempt by MPs to force it do this now.

How much does the UK spend on aid?

Foreign aid had been increasing over the years, in line with a commitment to meet a target of spending 0.7% of total (or gross) national income (GNI).

The promise to meet this UN-backed target dates back to the 1970s, and was enshrined into law in 2015.

Last year, foreign aid spending met the 0.7% target but fell for the first time in about a decade. This was because the overall economy shrank.

What is the government's justification?

It says the 2015 legislation - which introduced the 0.7% target - refers to "fiscal circumstances" which governments may refer to, if they fail to meet it.

It says the pandemic has inflicted "immense" damage on the economy and cutting aid spending to 0.5% is a "difficult decision" to help restore the public finances.

It says it will return to 0.7% but only when the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts that:

  • the government is not borrowing money for day-to-day spending (a current budget surplus)
  • underlying debt is falling as a percentage of national income

But some MPs have questioned when these tests will be met.

In March, the OBR forecast that the underlying debt as a percentage of national income will not start falling until 2024-25.

How does UK compare with other donors?

The government says the UK remains one of the largest aid donors in the world.

Before the cuts, it had the second highest contribution as a percent of GNI of the G7 group representing the world's leading economies.

Several other countries exceeded the UN aid target of 0.7% in 2020 - including Denmark (0.73%), Norway (1.11%) and Sweden (1.14%).

And as the UK cuts its aid budget, some developed countries have pledged to increase theirs.

France has committed to a 0.7% contribution by 2025, and US President Joe Biden has proposed an increase in America's foreign aid.

Where does foreign aid go?

UK aid funding supports hundreds of different projects around the world.

The bulk of spending in 2020 - more than 55% - was in the Africa region and used for bilateral aid. That's aid earmarked for specific projects or programmes in particular countries.

Just under 39% was spent on bilateral aid for Asia, with much smaller amounts going to other parts of the world.

Government figures for 2019 show that Pakistan was the top recipient that year of bilateral aid, followed by Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Syria.

Some UK money is also given to international bodies like the UN and others to spend as they see fit - this is multilateral aid.

In recent years, most UK aid has been bilateral (roughly two-thirds), rather than multilateral.

Pakistan has received the most UK aid for some years now.

It has high levels of deprivation, with nearly a third of people living in poverty, and one in eleven children dying before they are five years old.

But it's also a nuclear-armed state with relatively high defence spending - more than 18% of government expenditure in 2019 was on the military, according to World Bank data.

What's the impact of the cuts?

Some charities as well UN agencies have already spoken out about the impact on them.

In June, dozens of charities, NGOs and others submitted evidence to parliament's international development committee, detailing the likely cuts they need to make.

The UN's family planning agency (UNFPA) looks set to lose some 85% of its funding for family planning, a drop of about £130m.

The UN's children's fund (Unicef) will see its funding reduced by about 60%

image source, Unicef/Naftalin
image captionSchoolchildren in Somaliland using a UN-funded washing facility

UNAIDS is also set to lose about 80% of its funding from the UK.

The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said the cuts had affected key programmes, and were enacted "overnight" with no transition period or planning to mitigate their impact.

The World Health Organization's Global Polio Eradication Initiative will lose nearly all its UK funding, the body said in a statement.

The organisation says that UK funding will drop from £110m last year to just £5m this year.

What's the impact in specific countries?

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says its work in Syria has been severely impacted with up to 75% of the funding reduced from last year.

In Yemen, regarded as the world's worst humanitarian disaster, the UK's commitment to relief efforts for 2021 has gone down to £87.2m ($123.23m) from the £139.1m ($196.56m) that was pledged in 2020.

In Pakistan, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the cuts will have an impact on education, and nearly 11,000 girls in rural Pakistan may not attend school if the funding stops.

In a letter accessed by the BBC, eight non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide humanitarian aid to Bangladesh's Rohingya refugees say UK funding of £321m has been cut by 42%.

image source, Getty Images
image captionEducation in Nigeria is one of the areas supported by UK aid funding

In Nigeria, funding goes to projects on financial inclusion, food, education, health care, solar energy for schools and hospitals, electoral processes and civil society organisations.

Women for Women International - Nigeria says the UK has terminated a three-year grant agreement that was "halfway through" implementation.