10 June 2021
What was claimed
The present government has spent more on foreign aid than any previous Labour government.
This is true, at least from the data that goes back to 1970. It has also spent more than any previous Conservative government in that period.
What was claimed
The present government is continuing to spend more on foreign aid than any previous Labour government.
This is essentially true. Spending was briefly slightly higher than the present government’s planned target in 2006 and 2009, but no previous government has sustained it at or above that level.
Under this government, we’ve spent more [on overseas aid], and we continue to spend more than Labour ever did.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that this government has spent more on aid than Labour governments did in the past.
He also said that the government was continuing to spend more—even with its planned reduction of the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income.
This is essentially true, with some minor caveats.
UK foreign aid has grown
Since the late 2000s, the UK has spent much more on foreign aid than it used to—both in terms of cash, and as a share of the national income.
So the Conservative-led governments since 2010 have certainly spent more on aid than any previous Labour government, and more than any previous Conservative government too.
This partly reflects the UK’s commitment, along with many other countries, to the United Nations target of spending 0.7% of national income on foreign aid every year.
In practice, countries often do not live up to this.The UK has met the 0.7% aid target every year since 2013, however, and in 2015 the Conservative-led coalition government made doing so a legal requirement.
This usually means spending more on aid each year, as the national income grows, but in 2020 it’s expected to mean spending less in cash terms, because the national income fell during the pandemic.
Maintaining the 0.7% commitment was also a pledge in the Conservatives’ 2019 general election manifesto.
In November 2020, however, the government announced that it would reduce the target to 0.5% for a period, while finances recover from the pandemic. “Our intention is to return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows,” the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said.
The new target will substantially reduce the amount of aid spending. Although even at 0.5% of national income, it will be higher than it generally was before 2006.
Mr Johnson’s claim that “we continue to spend more than Labour ever did” is therefore accurate if you compare sustained periods of government—although Labour did spend 0.51% of national income on foreign aid in two single years: 2006 and 2009.