“We Liberal Democrats increased the UK’s overseas aid to 0.7 percent of national income, and fought to enshrine that global promise into law [...] we will restore it. We are the only party committed to restoring it.”
During his speech at the Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference on Sunday, 19 March, party leader Sir Ed Davey claimed the Liberal Democrats are “the only party” committed to restoring the target of spending 0.7% of the UK’s Gross National Income (GNI) on overseas aid.
Mr Davey criticised the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to reduce aid spending to 0.5% of GNI while serving as Chancellor in 2021, and said: “We will restore it. We are the only party committed to restoring it.”
Both the Conservatives and Labour have said they are committed to restoring the 0.7% target— but neither have given a definite time frame, and say it would depend on the fiscal situation.
When we contacted the Liberal Democrats about Mr Davey’s comments, a spokesperson told us it was the only party committed to immediately reinstating the target.
However, when looking at all parties currently represented in the UK Parliament, including those representing devolved nations, Mr Davey’s claim isn’t correct even if limited to those who would immediately reinstate the target.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymrus have both said they are also committed to immediately reinstating the target, while the Green Party told Full Fact it would immediately increase the target to above 0.7%.
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What is the 0.7% overseas aid target?
Since 2015, the UK Government has been required by law to ensure that it meets a target of spending 0.7% of GNI annually on Official Development Assistance (ODA), also referred to as overseas aid.
This is public money which supports aid and development in low- and middle-income countries
This target was first recommended by the Pearson Commission in 1969, and adopted in a resolution passed by the United Nations in 1970. The UK achieved this target for the first time in 2013.
However in November 2020, the UK Government confirmed that it would “temporarily” reduce this target to 0.5%, citing the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Government has set two tests which must be met before the 0.7% target can be reinstated: that the Office for Budget Responsibility shows that “on a sustainable basis” the country is not borrowing for day-to-day spending, and the ratio of underlying debt to GDP is falling.
In November 2022, the Government confirmed that spending on overseas aid would remain at 0.5% until these tests were met.
What are the party positions on the target?
Although Mr Davey didn’t refer to a specific time frame in his speech, the Liberal Democrats have said that they will “immediately” reinstate the 0.7% target.
By comparison, Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands MP said in February that the Government would return to the 0.7% target “when the fiscal position allows that”, but declined to confirm a specific timeframe.
The Labour Party has also confirmed that it is committed to returning to the 0.7% target, but similarly added that when exactly this would take place would depend on the fiscal situation.
However the SNP—the third largest party in Westminster—has said that it supports the immediate restoration of the 0.7% target, as has Plaid Cymru.
In a policy paper published in July 2022, the SNP outlined a “Commitment for an Independent Scottish Government to spend 0.7% of GNI on international aid on a statutory basis”.
The SNP confirmed to Full Fact that it is also calling for the UK government to immediately return to this target.
In a statement, shadow SNP spokesperson for international development Anum Qaisar MP said: “The SNP has consistently called on the UK Government to reverse its decision on cutting aid to 0.5% of GNI.
“As a party, the SNP is committed to the reinstatement of the 0.7%, and in an independent Scotland, we would look to eventually replicate countries such as Sweden who commit 1% of GNI.”
A spokesperson for Plaid Cymru similarly told Full Fact: “Plaid Cymru are committed to immediately restoring international aid to 0.7% of national income.”
Although international development is a reserved matter, meaning decisions in this area are taken by the UK Government rather than by devolved Parliaments, MPs for parties representing devolved nations would of course still have a vote on international development matters considered by the UK Parliament.
In addition, the Green Party (of England and Wales) has proposed increasing total international aid to 2.5% of GNI by 2030. A Green Party spokesperson told us this commitment consists of 1% of GNI going to Official Development Assistance “immediately”, and a further 1.5% being allocated to “concessional Climate Finance” by 2030.
We’ve contacted the other political parties with representation in the UK Parliament (the Democratic Unionist Party, Alba Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party and Alliance Party) to confirm their positions on this policy.
Since we first published this fact check, we’ve had responses from the DUP and the Alliance Party. Both directed us to their 2019 manifestos, in which both committed to supporting a UK target of 0.7% GNI dedicated to overseas aid (though these manifestos were published prior to the government lowering the target, and the parties did not give us further detail on a timeframe for reinstating it.)
We also asked the Liberal Democrats whether Mr Davey had taken the position of other parties such as the SNP into account when making his claim, but did not receive a further response.
False or misleading claims about political parties have the potential to affect people’s opinions of individuals and parties, and how people vote. It is important that if politicians do make misleading claims, they quickly correct them to ensure the highest standards of honesty and accuracy in public debate are upheld.
Image courtesy of Liberal Democrats