Almost a decade after former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s promise, the United Kingdom met its goal of spending 0.7 percent of its gross national income on overseas aid, taking its spot alongside the few European donors that have reached the target before the 2015 deadline set by the United Nations.
The U.K. Department for International Development released on Wednesday provisional figures on the country's aid spending in the past year, which showed overseas development assistance reached £11.44 billion ($18.93 billion) in 2013, a 30.5 percent increase from £8.77 billion in 2012.
The U.K’s ODA to GNI ratio is now 0.72 percent, placing it ahead of the Netherlands, whose ODA to GNI ratio in 2012 amounted to 0.71 percent, although the latter is expected to drop in the coming years. Completing membership of the so-called G-5 are 3 other European donors that have already met the target, namely Denmark (0.84 percent), Sweden (0.99 percent) and Luxembourg (1 percent).
More than half of U.K.'s ODA remains bilateral aid, although last year saw a 40.4 percent jump in its contributions to multilateral organizations, which include the European Commission and the World Bank. The donor is sure to get praise meanwhile for the sharp decline of its aid used as debt relief — from £71 million in 2012 to just £36 million in 2013. European NGOs consider debt relief, refugee costs, tied aid and interest loans as "inflated aid."
DfID continues to handle the bulk of U.K. aid: £10.054 billion or 87.8 percent of the total ODA. Much of its bilateral assistance continues to go to Africa, although the agency's spending in Asia is slowly catching up. In 2013, DfID bilateral assistance to that region reached £1.685 billion, a 55.9 percent increase from £1.08 billion the previous year. The agency's regional spend also increased by almost 50 percent.
It's important to note, though, that these figures only concern DfID, and do not yet cover bilateral and regional spending by other departments handling British aid. A complete and comprehensive breakdown will be published in October.
While many in the aid community hailed the government's success in meeting its promise, some U.K. parliamentarians were still critical. Speaking to the BBC’s Newsnight program on Wednesday, Conservative MP Peter Bone said that aid should be “based on need, not on some mythical target.” Accusing the government of “borrowing money to give it away,” and engaging in a “tick-box exercise” that did not necessarily take into account the most pressing issues, he was also concerned about the apparent ringfencing of U.K. overseas aid in a period that has otherwise been marked by widespread departmental cuts.
In addition, despite Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's pledge last month that the government will continue to meet the U.K.'s 0.7 percent commitment this fiscal year, many are not sure the cabinet will actually enshrine the pledge into law.
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