UK aid didn’t pay for India’s moon mission

28 September 2023
What was claimed

India receives £2.3 billion in overseas aid from the UK and is using the money to fund its lunar mission.

Our verdict

False. The UK money paid to India is invested in businesses and other projects of benefit to both countries. None of the money is spent on the space programme.

A number of posts on Facebook, along with X (formerly known as Twitter), claim that foreign aid paid to India by the UK is being spent on the country's recent moon mission.

One post says: “£2.3 billion in UK ‘aid’, which is your tax money, went to India between 2016 and 2021, and they're spending it on this ‘moon landing’.”

Another says: “So glad India made it to the moon, I guess our 2.3 billion pounds of aid was well spent. I hope the poor are now saved.”

Although it is true that the UK sent India £2.3 billion in aid between 2016 and 2021, this money was not traditional development aid, and direct financial aid to the Indian government ceased in 2015. The new payments include bilateral aid in the form of “technical assistance and research funding, as well as ‘development capital’ investment in the private sector.” 

The money was therefore not used to fund the mission to the moon, which had an initial budget of around £55 million. The mission was the work of the Indian Space Research  Organisation (ISRO), which is funded by the Indian government.  

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Mutual benefit

According to a report published by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), the UK began transitioning away from providing the Indian government with money to fund traditional aid projects in 2012. 

In a statement to parliament in November that year, the then Secretary of State for International Development wrote: “India’s growing ability to finance its own development programmes means that the time has now come to end the UK’s financial grant support.”

She added that the aim was to create a partnership that was increasingly “about trade not aid.”

A 2018 statement by the Department for International Development (which has since been incorporated into the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office) said: “Traditional financial aid to India ended in 2015. The UK now provides the country with world-leading expertise and private investment which boost prosperity, create jobs and open up markets, while generating a return for the UK at the same time. This is firmly in our interests.”

Responding to media queries at the time, a department spokesperson added: “Not a penny of British taxpayers' aid money has gone on India's space programme,”

Earnings from space

India currently has one of the fastest-growing major economies in the world, and its space programme is supported by the Indian government. Some commentators have suggested the money would be better spent on dealing with domestic issues. 

Although extreme poverty still exists within the country—around one in five Indian households do not have access to proper toilet facilities—the numbers living in poverty have substantially declined in recent years. 

A report by the United Nations Development Programme found that 135 million people escaped multidimensional poverty between 2015-16 and 2019-21. The country registered a significant decline of almost ten percentage points in India’s multidimensionally poor, from 24.9% in 2015-16 to 15.0% in 2019-2021.

According to an article in The Telegraph by India’s High Commissioner to the UK, the country has “launched 389 satellites, earning some £320 million over the past nine years”. In addition: “data from the space programme has been directly used by farmers, fishing communities, water departments, meteorologists, and now for the design and monitoring of infrastructure projects.”

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