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Foreign Policy Foreign Policy

Update the international rules and definitions of development spending

Last updated: 09:36pm 27 November 2019

We do not believe that international definitions of development assistance always help in determining how money should be spent, on whom and for what purpose. So we will work with like-minded countries to change the rules so that they are updated and better reflect the breadth of our assistance around the world. If that does not work, we will change the law to allow us to use a better definition of development spending, while continuing to meet our 0.7 per cent target.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.39

Our verdict

The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) defines Official Development Assistance (ODA) as government aid that specifically promotes growth and welfare in developing countries. This was adopted as the “gold standard” of foreign aid in 1969, and it remains the main source of financing for development aid. This policy is a pledge to seek changes to the rules around ODA, and – if unsuccessful – to use a UK-specific definition instead.

Under this government, the UK has secured changes to the rules around the administration of ODA, but the actual definition remains unchanged.

In 2018, the House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC) published a report on the definition and administration of ODA which stated clearly that:

“…we believe unilateral action by the UK to develop and use its own ODA definition would be an own goal.”

In response, the government disagreed with the IDC recommendation, arguing that in exceptional cases the definition should be broadened. It said:

“We are working to prepare an evidence-based proposal for further consideration. A DFID secondee has started at the OECD DAC to help conduct this analysis.”

At the end of the government’s term of office, the outcome of that secondment work is unknown. The government has, however, brought about changes to rules around development assistance. We think that’s enough evidence of success to mark this policy as ‘done’.

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There's always room for debate

We’re serious about providing clear, up-to-date, non-partisan information. We focus on being consistent and fair in how we reach our verdicts, and always explain our reasoning. But there is always room for debate. So if you see it differently, we’d love you to tell us why. Or even better, submit an edit.