Shaping the UK Aid Cuts Debate


Since late 2020, when rumours started to circulate that the British government planned to reduce its aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI), CGD’s analysis has been playing an important part in the debate.  

Before the cuts were even officially announced, Ranil Dissanayake undertook an analysis of the potential impact this could have, and set out recommendations for how the process should happen, if it must. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s subsequent announcements on reduced departmental allocations were made in line with Dissanayake’s advice. 

Ian Mitchell and Sam Hughes looked into which departments of the UK Government had been spending aid most effectively, in order inform future allocation, and Mitchell was then invited to give oral evidence to the House of Commons’ International Development Committee on the future of UK aid. 

The following month, Ian Mitchell, Sam Hughes, and Euan Ritchie published an overview of the cuts and their impacts, with a focus on how the huge reduction in spend would impact climate commitments and bilateral aid. They offered MPs five pieces of advice. This work was covered by the Guardian, Global Citizen, Devex, and the New Statesman. Gordon Brown, former prime minister and chancellor of the UK, referenced CGD’s work here when writing in the Guardian and Andrew Mitchell MP, longstanding champion of international aid mentioned the analysis on the World at One on BBC Radio 4. 

In March 2021, the UK government published its Integrated Review, with the Prime Minister reaffirming the government’s commitment to resume spending 0.7% of GNI when the fiscal situation allows. In response, Mitchell and Hughes, in partnership with experts from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), published a detailed analysis of the UK’s reduction in aid spending and examined when the fiscal situation might allow for more aid spending in an accompanying blog. As the Government brought a surprise vote on fiscal conditions for a return to 0.7%, Mitchell and Hughes’ work helped inform proposals assembled by partner organizations and Parliamentarians. Mitchell and Hughes were invited to present their findings in a public seminar organized by Bond. Mitchell and Dissanayake also spoke to Devex, noting that the Chancellor’s definition of “when fiscal circumstances allow” is “not based in economics but in politics.”  

In advance of the 3-year Spending Review, and following Liz Truss being named as the new Foreign Secretary in a Cabinet reshuffle, Mitchell and Dissanayake weighed in on the UK Treasury’s literal interpretation of the rules governing ODA, noting that this could impose further cuts to aid in 2022  and could place the UK’s status as a leader in the development sphere under existential threat. Dissanayake’s analysis was featured by the BBC as one of its top 10 reads of the day and was discussed by the Scottish Parliament. Speaking to Devex, Mitchell and Dissanayake warned of further UK aid cuts and commented on Liz Truss’s new role (here and here). Following confirmation of additional cuts within days of the publication of the Spending Review, both Mitchell and Dissanayake were again featured in Devex. The outcome of the spending review for the FCDO was more flexible (with a smaller share of capital spend) than initial HMT proposals, suggesting that the Foreign Secretary had successfully argued in line with Dissanayake’s recommendations.  

In early 2022, Euan Ritchie, Anthony Mcdonnell, and Ranil wrote a blog arguing against the UK Government’s plans not only to count COVID-19 vaccines donated to low- and middle-income countries as ODA, but to reduce the aid budget by an estimate of $232 million more than it actually spent on the vaccines. This included You Gov polling which showed that British MPs from across the UK’s political spectrum think this is wrong. This analysis created debate on this policy immediately, and was featured by news outlets including Sky News, The Guardian, Evening Standard, Devex, The Telegraph and The Independent. Shadow International Development Secretary, Preet Gill sent a letter to the FCDO minister as a direct result of our blog, and member organization Bond issued a press statement on this on behalf of organisations such as Oxfam, Save the Children, and Action Aid. And Baroness Liz Sugg asked a question in the House of Lord’s directly quoting CGD’s analysis.  

CGD’s UK Development Policy experts continue to keep a close on eye on the policies adopted by the government, and a possible return to a budget of 0.7% of GDP. 

Related Experts

Anthony McDonnell

Senior Policy Analyst

Euan Ritchie

Former Policy Analyst - CGD Europe

Ian Mitchell

Co-Director, Europe and Senior Policy Fellow

Ranil Dissanayake

Senior Research Fellow

Sam Hughes

Research Associate

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