Foreign aid: who gives the most?

The government is spending more on aid but how does the UK compare with other countries?

A recent Mail front page thundered that the UK "doles out more aid than any other country". But while we spend more on international development than the rest of the G8 (one assumes that's what the Mail meant), it's not the case that the UK "doles out" more aid than anyone else, either in cash terms or as a percentage of gross national income (GNI).

In 2010, the UK spent 0.6 per cent (£8.5bn) of its GNI on aid, well above the OECD average of 0.32 per cent, but still less than Norway (1.1 per cent), Luxembourg (1.1 per cent), Sweden (1.0 per cent), Denmark (0.9 per cent) and the Netherlands (0.8 per cent). The US continues to spend the most in cash terms (£18.5bn) but this represents just 0.2 per cent of its GNI.


To its credit, the coalition plans to increase the international development budget by 34 per cent across this parliament in order to meet the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNI (£11.4bn) on aid by 2013-2014. The biggest winner is Somalia, which will receive a 208 per cent increase (up to £250m), followed by Nigeria, which will get a boost of 116 per cent (up to £1bn). At the same time, the UK will cut off aid to countries including Russia, China, Serbia and Cambodia.

In the words of Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, the UK aims to become a "development superpower". The government demonstrated its commitment on 13 June when David Cameron pledged an extra £814m to vaccinate more than 80 million children, a move that will help prevent 1.4 million dying from conditions such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.

So far, against the wishes of much of his party, this is one area in which Cameron shows no sign of performing a U-turn.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia