Each year the UK spends billions on ‘Official Development Assistance’ (ODA), generally known as foreign aid. Part of this aid budget is given to multilateral bodies, or ‘global quangos’. These organisations work with governments worldwide to promote international co-ordination on issues of importance. Notable examples include the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the World Bank.
The UK’s aid budget has increased dramatically since 2013, when the government first reached the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) per year spent on aid. In 2015 the target was enshrined in law, and spending did not fall below 0.7 per cent until 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the wake of the pandemic, aid spending has been temporarily reduced to 0.5 per cent of GNI, and the Treasury expects to return to 0.7 per cent in 2027-28 at the earliest.
In 2013, when the government first met the 0.7 per cent target, 73 per cent of the £2.6 billion increase was given to global quangos. Up to 2020, the 0.7 per cent of GNI target has increased spending by £32 billion relative to what would have been spent at 0.5 per cent of GNI. Over half of that amount, £18 billion, has been passed to global quangos.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) suggests that only a third of aid spending went to global quangos in 2021, but this number only accounts for unearmarked spends which are not designated for a particular purpose. Earmarked funds given to multilaterals are not counted as multilateral aid by government departments, but they do fund global quangos. For instance, a 2017 payment ‘to co-fund a Scientific and Technical support programme for developing a global humanitarian Index for Risk Management with the EU and the UN’ was recorded by the FCDO as bilateral-through-multilateral. When this type of spending is included, over half of aid from 2009 to 2021 has gone to global quangos.
Global quangos have received £85 billion from the UK government since 2009, over half of all ODA in this period.
- When the government increased ODA spending to 0.7 per cent of GNI in 2013, 73 per cent of the £6 billion increase went to global quangos.
- The 0.7 per cent of GNI commitment meant £32 billion more was spent compared to if the commitment were at 0.5 per cent in the eight years from 2013 to 2020, and £18 billion of that went to global quangos.
- If ODA spending remains at 0.5 per cent of GNI until 2027, taxpayers will be spending £37 billion less including £20 billion on global quangos.
 Loft. P, Brien. P, The 0.7% aid target, House of Commons Library, 29 November 2022, commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn03714/, (accessed 5 July 2023).
 FCDO, Statistics on International Development, 5 April 2023, www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statistics-on-international-development-provisional-uk-aid-spend-2022/statistics-on-international-development-provisional-uk-aid-spend-2022, (accessed 5 July 2023).