“We as a Government have doubled the expenditure in real terms on overseas aid from 0.26 per cent of GDP, which we inherited from the previous Government, to 0.52 per cent today. That doubling of our investment in overseas aid is unparalleled in the past 20 years in any country.”
Gordon Brown, PMQs, 7 April 2010
As long ago as 1970 a UN General Assembly Resolution pledged that countries would aim for 0.7% of Gross National Product for overseas aid.
This has been reaffirmed many times, and the government has pledged to hit 0.7% by 2013. Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have already surpassed 0.7%.
Earlier this month the Department for International Development (DfID) said : “Statistics released by the Department for International Development show that the UK spent 0.52% of Gross National Income on overseas aid in 2009 – the highest proportion since 1964.”
“UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) reached £7,365 million in 2009 – the highest absolute level of UK overseas aid ever recorded – which is an increase of more than £1 billion on the previous years figure,” the document continued.
Another DfID document shows UK overseas aid as a percentage of Gross National Income over the years. So there is no disputing that the Prime Minister is right that the figure for 1997 (the year Labour came to power) was 0.26 and is 0.52 in 2009.
However, statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – which only go up to 2008 – show that other countries, specifically Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain more than doubled their overseas development aid as a percentage of gross national product between 1988 and 2008 (and also between 1989 and 2008) at current prices.
The Prime Minister’s figure of 0.52% is for 2009, not 2008 (when UK overseas aid as a percentage of GNI was just 0.43%). OECD figures for 2009 are due out this month – although we do know that Ireland heavily cut their aid budget last year.
But Luxembourg is expected to keep its overseas aid at a (comparatively) high percentage, with a figure of 0.93% projected by the OECD for 2010. Spain is expected to raise its contribution to 0.56% in 2010.
Both countries have a smaller economy than the UK, but their efforts cast doubt on the Prime Minister’s statement that the UK has been uniquely generous in the last twenty years.
Finally, it should be noted that the Prime Minister’s answer at PMQs referred to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) rather than GNI (Gross National Income).
Although the two terms are used interchangeably, they are not the same: GDP is the product produced inside a country’s borders while GNI is product produced by enterprises owned by a country’s citizens.
The Office for National Statistics Blue Book (see page 35) has the latest calculations of GDP and GNI (these are for 2008). Measured in millions of pounds, GDP was £1,446,113m and Gross National Income was £1,471,255m.
“The Prime Mnister’s contribution to both debt relief and international aid starting from his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer is internationally recognised and acknowledged,” said a Downing Street spokesman.
The Prime Minister is right to state that the UK’s overseas aid contribution has doubled since Labour came to power.
On a minor point, he confused GDP and GNI – a forgivable slip but strictly speaking a slip nonetheless.
He is on shakier ground in saying that no other country has doubled aid in the last twenty years, while we don’t have access to the latest set of data which could show falls in overseas aid, other countries have doubled their donations during this period.