Aid and international development

How much development aid should the UK give? Where should it go? And does it reach the people who most need it?

Aid in fragile and conflict-affected states

In 2012, the House of Commons International Development Select Committee published a report recommending that the UK should continue to give aid to fragile states even if it costs more to achieve positive results than in stable countries. However, the government should set out what levels of accountability and transparency it expects from its partners overseas and should not be afraid to withdraw aid if they aren't met.

The report also said the government should be clear about which countries it funds and why. It looked particularly at aid programmes in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR). It recommended that in the DCR, the main priority should be to tackle violence against women and girls, while aid programmes in Rwanda should focus on improving governance and freedom of speech.

Should we spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on aid?

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Select Committee published a report on the government's target of spending 0.7% of GNI on aid. It concluded that this target should be withdrawn and we should focus on making our aid programmes as effective as possible, not on how much money we spend.

The report supported government decisions to run down aid programmes to 16 countries, including China and Russia, and urged an early exit from the Indian development aid programme. It also called for greater efforts to identify and tackle corruption, and questioned the government figure for aid lost to fraud last year.

Other Select Committee reports

What are the issues?

Here are some issues your students will hear being discussed on this topic, including some that were raised by the Select Committees.

Whose need is greatest? - At a time when the government is trying to cut the budget deficit, some people want the money spent on aid to be used at home. How do the needs of people in countries like the UK compare with needs elsewhere? And what is the best way to balance them?

Does aid always reach the people who need it? - Some of the countries that receive UK aid have problems with corruption; others have recently come out of civil wars or don't have a stable government. Some of these regions are home to the people who need aid the most, so should we prioritise helping them? Or should we withdraw aid if there is a danger that some of it will go astray?

Can aid be non-political? - How should we decide how much aid a country should receive? Is it based on need? Or should we give more to countries where there are some benefits for us, for example, where giving aid might improve our security?

Is aid always the best type of help? - Should we focus on giving aid to countries in need or are there sometimes better alternatives? What is the role of measures like improving trade and economic growth? Can these options ever remove the need for aid, or are they complementary strategies?

Do aid donors understand the needs of the people they want to help? - Some countries have very complex political situations and complex needs. Is it possible for donors like the UK, whose circumstances are very different, to understand the needs of these countries? Are there ways of ensuring we give the most useful kinds of help, for example, by involving members of local communities in decisions?

How much aid should we give? - A number of European countries set a target of spending 0.7% of their annual budget on aid. Does having a target like this help to ensure that countries prioritise aid? Or should aid expenditure be decided in other ways, such as on a case-by-case basis?

What would happen if we reduced aid? - If the UK gave less aid, what effect would this have? What might be the human cost? What is the potential impact on the UK's international standing and influence? Would there be hidden costs, such as increased conflict over resources? How should we balance these possible consequences against the cost of giving aid?

What do your students think about these issues?

More information


Note that the article above was produced in summer 2012. More recent parliamentary debates about aid and international development and the publication of new select committee reports may have taken place since then.

Classroom resources

A lesson plan, classroom activities and powerpoint presentation about the role of select committees and the issue of aid are also available.