Making a Virtue out of Necessity? Reflection on the UK’s decision to allocate 0.7% of its GDP (the UN –set target) to International Development!

For the last 3 years I have been very anxious and waiting to see if the UK’s government will eventually keep its promise of achieving the 0.7% of GDP aid target in 2013.  Finally, on Wednesday 20th March, during his budget speech, the UK’s Chancellor of Exchequer, George Osborne confirmed that Her Majesty’s Government will allocate 0.7% to international aid. Quoted from his speech, the Chancellor said, “We also deliver in this coming year on this nation’s long-standing commitment to the world’s poorest to spend 0.7 per cent of our national income on international development. We should all take pride, as I do, in this historic achievement for our country.”  To be honest, I must say that I join him and all the UK citizens in taking pride to this achievement. I know there are many debates on whether aid makes a difference or not based on the many controversies with regards to aid effectiveness and aid politics. I will not go into those debates at the moment. But for the UK to achieve that in the midst of economic recession and budget deficits is itself something congratulatory. Many Western countries have not been able to do that. UK has achieved that before Germany, France, and the USA. In fact, I think those countries; especially the USA has a long way to go before getting here.

My anxiety was out of my PhD research that looked into this matter in details. Over years, both major political parties in UK- Labour and Conservative, have been expressing their plan to reach the UN-set target of 0.7% of GDP for international development.  This is evident in both political parties’ election manifestos.  Since I am at the moment time constrained hence no time to write a coherent blog entry, I have taken some pieces  (in italics below) from my PhD Thesis that can give us a historical hint on the decades-long debates on this matter. I will then draw a short conclusion that can help us think further into this.

In 1958, James Callaghan who was the Labour MP with various shadow ministerial and governmental positions and later on became the Prime Minister (1976-1979) gave a speech in parliament arguing that the British government should accept the 1% GDP (this idea of 1% of GDP for aid was first proposed by the World Council of Churches in 1950s and later on adopted by the UN in 1960s, and revised to 0.7 % in 1969) for aid target (House of Commons, 1958:  Kwayu, 2012, 77-78)

 One of the international development policies that featured in all of the four manifestos (i.e. 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2010) was the plan to meet the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for international development. In 1992, the Labour Party had promised to meet the target within 5 years (Labour, 1992). This timetable was not included in the 1997 manifesto. The party manifesto of 1997 was realistic and only mentioned the intention to meet that target, without giving a specific year (Labour, 1997). This remained the case until 2005, when the party promised to reach this target by 2013 (Labour, 2005). In 2010, the party went a step further and promised to enshrine this in law (Labour 2010: Kwayu 2012,  198)

In 1992 election manifesto the Conservative party accepted the UN target for aid of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) but it could ‘not set a timetable for this achievement’ (Conservative, 1992: Kwayu, 2012, 201-202)

In 1997, the Conservative Party mentioned again its aspiration of meeting the UN target of 0.7 % GNI for aid, but this was still described as ‘a long term objective’ (Conservative, 1997: Kwayu, 2012, 202)

In the 2001 election, the Conservative election manifesto again expressed the importance of working towards the 0.7% GNI aid target (Conservatives, 2001: Kwayu 2012, 202)

In 2005 there were major changes especially in regard to the timing for the UN target of 0.7% GDP for aid. For the first time, the Conservative party set a date for achieving that target -2013 (Conservatives 2005: Kwayu 2012, 203)

The Liberal Democrat manifesto of 2010 had a section, ‘your world’ that deals with international development among other foreign policies. The policies that the party was promising were not very different from the policies of the other parties. These included the promise to reach the UN target of 0/7% of GNI for aid by 2013. Like the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats also promised to enshrine this target in law. (Kwayu 2012, 206)

By the year 2010 the promotion of the international development agenda became an all-party vision for Britain. All the three major political parties agreed to reach the UN target of 0.7% of GNI for international aid by 2013 despite the economic difficulties and recession. In addition, the coalition government has decided to ring-fence the international development budget despite cuts in all other Whitehall departments with the exception of the National Health Service (NHS) (Ibid, 207)

While the polls show that the public support of the increased aid budgets is decreasing, the government is still keeping its pledge to reach the UN target of 0.7 % GNI of its budget by the 2013. The UK will be the first country among the G8 members to reach that target by 2013, and this is done in the context of a global economic recession and the austerity budget measures taken by many developed countries. (Ibid, 209)

My Thesis then asked: why is the UK government sticking to this despite the opposition and economic hardships?  (Ibid, 209)


The Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, had a vision of making Britain an ‘aid superpower’. He said, “Just like America is a military superpower, Britain will be a development superpower…we do this not only because it’s morally right, but out of our national interests as well” (Mitchell, 2011: Kwayu, 2012, 195)

This is an interesting vision because superpowers are defined by military capability. However international aid is becoming securitized due to its ability to deal with the post-Cold War security issues. Military capabilities are no longer effective in winning wars and conflicts. We have seen how the US military has failed to attain peace in several places like Somalia (with the failure and death of 18 US soldiers in 1993), the insurgency in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. Thus, to attain peace in the post-Cold War world, military capabilities have to be combined with development. Poverty is an enemy that ‘hosts’ other enemies. The British government understands this and it is fighting global poverty not only for a moral purpose or to gain recognition as a ‘power’, but also to ensure security for its people at home and abroad. (Kwayu, 2012, 218-219)

The Thesis chapter that most of the above was extracted from is titled “Making a Virtue Out Of Necessity? The rise of the international development agenda in British politics and the role of faith groups” (Kwayu, 2012: 195-219).

So it’s possible that the UK is indeed making a virtue out of necessity!!!!


Conservative Party, “The Best Future for Britain,” Election Manifesto, 1992

Conservative Party, “You can only be sure with the Conservatives,” Election Manifesto, 1997

Conservative Party, “Time for Common Sense,” Election Manifesto, 2001

Conservative Party, “It’s Time for Action,” Election Manifesto, 2005

House of Commons (Hansard) Speech by James Callaghan, Vol. 59, Columns 35-48, 21 July 1958

Kwayu A.K, “The Relationship Between the UK’s Government and Faith Groups: The Case of International Development Policies, 1992-2011,” PhD Thesis, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK 2012

Labour Party, “It’s Time to Get Britain Working Again,” Election Manifesto,, 1992

Labour Party, “New Labour Because Britain Deserves Better,” Election Manifesto, 1997

Labour Party, “Britain Forward Not Back,” Labour Party Manifesto, 2005

Labour Party, “A Future Fair for All,” Election Manifesto, 2010

Mitchell A. (Secretary of State for International Development, May 2010-present), Parliamentary Session on Official Development Aid, June 2011

The full 2013 UK’s Budget Speech is available at

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