Why the UK Government SHOULDN’T abandon the 0.7% aid target

The House of Lords Committee for Economic Affairs have today published a report which calls on the Government to scrap their plans to make our spend of 0.7% of national income on aid legally binding. Inevitably attracting a lot of media attention, they argue that how the money is spent is much more important than the overall amount and that having a legally-binding target set up the wrong kind of incentives.

They are missing the point for three reasons:

1.We have an obligation to stick to our word. Rich nations promised in 1970 – well before I was born – to give 0.7% of income to help the poorest countries develop.  This promise has so far only been met by a handful of countries and is just one of a string of promises made by the powerful which poor countries have seen broken.  We also promised to work in partnership with developing countries to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and aid will be vital if many of these are to get back on track.

Leaders were praised for renewing aid commitments in 2005.

Back in 2005, world leaders were lauded for reinforcing their aid promises when the G8 met in Gleneagles – what has changed since then?

We might argue that our own country is going through tough economic times.  But the point about a percentage target is that if our own economy shrinks, so does the amount we need to give.  And we are kidding ourselves if we think that the problems of global poverty are not relevant to us.  The financial crisis, climate change and many conflicts have their roots in the actions of rich nations but disproportionately affect people living in poverty. We criticise other countries’ governments for not sticking to their commitments.  We must set an example by sticking to ours.

2.Both aid quality and aid quantity are important.  The Lords are of course right: aid money must be used effectively and shouldn’t be wasted through corruption.  However, their assertion that aid might be being misused just doesn’t stack up, and cannot be used as an excuse for rolling back on a promise.

The UK’s Department for International Development has some of the most rigorous accountability mechanisms in the world, with UK aid impact being assessed by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) and the International Development Select Committee (IDC) as well as through DFID’s own monitoring evaluation mechanisms. Where regimes are corrupt, DFID choose to work through multilateral organisations or trusted civil society groups instead. There is clear evidence that UK aid works, that it is saving lives, and that it is helping to make communities less dependent on humanitarian support in the long term.  We could end up with an incredibly effective aid programme which is tiny and hardly reaches anyone.  Where we know money can have real results, for real people, how can we sanction any further delay in scaling up aid?

The Lords again raise the question of whether UK aid should go to countries like India.  My colleague Sarah recently set out the arguments for this here.

3. 0.7% is still a tiny proportion of national income but can have a transformational impact.  It’s less than a penny in every pound.  It’s a very small percentage of what we spend on, say, defence. And it doesn’t just benefit the people that it reaches directly, but also helps to make the world a fairer, more secure and more sustainable place.  As Adrian Lovett from ONE pointed out last week, UK aid will put 15.9 million children in school, protect 5.8 million mothers during childbirth, provide safe drinking water to 17 million people and help over 9 million people overcome malnutrition in the next four years.  Surely that is an investment well worth making?


  1. […] to their commitment to the aid budget, even in difficult economic times.  As my colleague Laura blogged recently, “UK aid will put 15.9 million children in school, protect 5.8 million mothers during […]

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