Foreign Aid and Development
A recent survey shows that 66% of Britons support foreign aid spending, but there is significant division regarding the specifics of aid, DEVEX notes. The British government is currently facing criticism as reports emerged that the government, in 2022, diverted £3.7 billion ($4.6 billion) from the foreign aid budget to domestic refugee programs. The act negatively impacted nearly all international humanitarian programs, according to Bond, a U.K. network of development organizations. Nonetheless, a British government representative highlights that Britain remains one of the largest foreign aid donors globally. A closer look at foreign aid and development illustrates the importance of aid to the world’s poorest.

Foreign Aid

Foreign aid remains elusive for many British citizens due to its complex network of donors and recipients. In essence, foreign aid involves the “transfer of capital, goods or services from one country or international organization to another for the benefit of the recipient country or population.” Its goal is to provide vital resources such as access to clean water, education, infrastructure and security.


One should not mistake foreign aid as a mere wealth transfer or redistribution. Rather, it is an investment. A donor country in partnership with various private actors, provides financial resources or commodities: capital, credit, military and training, in return for preferential access to primary goods or capital returns on investments made in infrastructure or industry. Aid can be strategically deployed to ensure regional security, as investments in Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan exemplify.

As directed by the Marshall Plan of 1947, the U.S. sent complex aid packages made up of loans and goods to Europe to forestall the spread of communism and create a vast and dependable market for U.S. goods. This meant returns for both private and state investors and the recipient country.

Modern investments also have played a role in stabilizing regions. China, for example, has built 100 seaports in Africa to facilitate free trade and preferential access to goods. China built the Lekki Deep Sea Port in Nigeria. Costing the Chinese government $1 billion, it is one of the largest ports in West Africa.

The Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria Cui Jianchun says the project will create at least 200,000 jobs and will bring prosperity and security to the region. Of course, China, or the China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) specifically, owns 75% of the port and receives a fee on all goods entering and exiting. China has also provided humanitarian aid for disaster relief and refugee support globally.

Humanitarian Aid

Through foreign aid, countries and organizations are able to establish humanitarian assistance projects to help the most vulnerable people meet their basic needs. However, foreign aid primarily consists of comprehensive packages that include both development and humanitarian aid. Official Development Assistance (ODA) is a crucial aspect of this aid, designed to promote development and combat poverty. U.K.-funded ODA programs have achieved significant humanitarian milestones.

U.K.-funded ODA programs have, for example:

  • Immunized more than 56 million children between January 2015 and December 2017 saving 990,000 lives. An additional pledge will help immunize 75 million children over the next five years.
  • Made education accessible for 15.6 million people between 2015 and 2020.
  • Delivered nutrition programs for more than 50 million women and children.
  • Provided 365,000 vaccines in Syria and granted 1 million people access to clean drinking water.
  • Reached 300,000 women through the Work and Opportunities for Women programs.
  • Organized the “Better Work-Bangladesh” initiative, designed to improve the working conditions in the garments sector. More than 600,000 people labor in Better Work-registered factories in Bangladesh, with women accounting for 56% of this number.

Looking Ahead

During the U.K.-Africa Investment Summit in January 2020, the U.K. committed to investing an additional £1.6 billion in foreign aid and development projects to create jobs and foster growth. However, the U.K. falls short of the U.N. target of allocating 0.7% of GDP to ODA, currently spending 0.5%. The government suggests that financial constraints have affected meeting this target and it aims to return to it in the future. Global circumstances, such as the current focus on Ukraine, may redirect foreign aid budgets, raising concerns about neglecting other areas in equal need. 

The direction of Great Britain’s foreign aid and development strategy appears uncertain amidst the influence of COVID-19 and Brexit. These events have compelled the U.K. government to reevaluate its global stance, leading to budget reductions and altered spending priorities. However, as economic conditions improve, there is optimism that the U.K. will establish well-defined and impactful foreign aid strategies and objectives.

– James Durbin
Photo: Flickr