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A new international development strategy was announced as part of the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (IR), published in March 2021. The Government explained that the strategy will build upon the strategic objectives and themes set out in the IR and would detail its approach to international development for the next 10 years. The Government is consulting on the strategy, and it is expected to be published in spring 2022.

The IR emphasised that the UK was committed to tackling global poverty, achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, aligning aid spending with commitments in the Paris Agreement on climate change and maintaining the highest standards of evidence for investments. It also said that the Government intends to focus aid work on areas “which are important to a globally-focused UK and where we can have the greatest life-changing impact in the long-term”. It said the UK will maintain its commitment to Africa, while increasing development efforts in the Indo-Pacific.

Some criticised the Government’s IR for its lack of detail on international development priorities. For example, the chair of the House of Commons International Development Committee, Sarah Champion (Labour MP for Rotherham), stated it had “done little to alleviate fears that this is the beginning of the end for the UK’s development superpower status”.

The IR’s publication was preceded by government announcements to merge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development and to temporarily reduce overseas development assistance (ODA) from its 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) legislative target to 0.5% of GNI, with effect from 2021. The latter announcement was met with particular criticism, with Bond (the UK network for organisations working in international development) publishing a letter from almost 200 charities calling for the decision to be reversed. Opposition parties and some Conservative MPs also opposed the move. However, the Government argued that it was a temporary but necessary measure due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the UK’s finances. It said it would return to the 0.7% target once certain fiscal tests were met. 

In 2021, the UK is expected to spend around £11bn on overseas development assistance. It spent £14.5bn in 2020.

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