Foreign aid: Autumn Budget 2021 changes, how much UK spends on overseas aid and where it goes - explained

Rishi Sunak announced planned changes to the UK’s current foreign aid contributions in the Autumn Budget 2021

Rishi Sunak has vowed to return the UK’s foreign aid contributions to 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2024/25.

The chancellor set out plans in his Autumn Budget 2021 to lift the contribution from 0.5%, which he had set just 12 months ago.

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In 2020, Mr Sunak pointed to the country’s current financial plight amid the Covid pandemic and vowed to raise it back up "when the fiscal situation allows".

It caused some controversy at the time, with the resignation of Baroness Liz Sugg as foreign minister, but Mr Sunak defended the government’s foreign aid contributions.

Now, in November 2021, Mr Sunak has promised to increase contributions made to some of the world’s poorest nations back to pre-April 2021 levels in three years’ time.

What is foreign aid?

Each year the government sets aside a proportion of the UK’s budget to help other countries, who are typically less economically developed.

As well as financial support, there are other ways countries can help one another through the transfer of goods such as food, military equipment or medical help.

Other types of aid could include providing books, building schools, sanitation, advising on farming methods and helping with clean water.

Sudden natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis have also seen emergency aid supplied, while aid can be funded through public donations and charities like Children in Need.

How much does the UK spend on foreign aid?

As a founding member of the United Nations, the UK is committed to contributing towards foreign aid and has done so since 1974.

The UN has had a long-standing target for donor countries to contribute 0.7% of their GDP on foreign aid, which the UK reached for the first time in 2013.

David Cameron, during his time as prime minister, enshrined in UK law a necessity to maintain its 0.7% contribution. The obligation isn’t enforceable through the courts but does require an explanation to parliament if the target is not met.

The government had pledged £15 billion in overseas aid this financial year before the Covid crisis hit.

Reports in the Guardian state this figure has already been cut by £2.9 billion “due to the sharp decline in growth, but was expected to recover next year along with the projected 5.5% growth in the British economy”.

The current annual commitment is around £10 billion.

Where does foreign aid go?

The UK has helped countries such as Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Syria in the past.

The money is split between multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, who fund big projects like disaster relief, and developing countries.

Pakistan (£305 million), Ethiopia (£300 million) and Afghanistan (£292 million) were the top recipients of overseas aid from the UK in 2019, according to the Daily Mail.

China received £67.9 million in UK aid which included "£851,561 on researching air pollution in cities, £278,047 on portable scanners to detect strokes and £438,795 on gastric cancer screening" the Mail report said.

A total of £107.8 million went to India, an increase of £12.8 million.

The UK’s contribution in 2019 was more than double the 0.29% average given by G7 nations. None of the other G7 nations - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States - met the 0.7% target.

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