UK aid | ActionAid UK

UK aid

International aid helps to save lives and change lives for good. Aid given by the UK government has faced a great deal of public criticism over the past few months - but the fact is that the evidence shows that aid works, and is helping to build a safer, healthier, more prosperous world for people in developing countries and in the UK.

What is foreign aid?

UK aid is the financial support Britain gives to poorer countries to promote sustainable development, eliminate world poverty and help people whose lives have been destroyed by disaster or conflict.

That support is badly needed. More than 700 million people live in extreme poverty — on less than $1.90 a day. Many more can’t access healthcare or education, are denied their rights or have their lives destroyed by humanitarian disaster or conflict.

Some parts of the media criticise how much money is being spent on aid. The truth is the UK spends just 0.7% of our national wealth on international aid to help people living in poverty. In 2015 that amounted to £12.1 billion. To put this into context, in 2017 we will spend £100 billion on education, £149 billion on the NHS and £245 billion on social protection like pensions and benefits.

We do not need to choose between helping the world’s poorest or spending money at home.

The scale of the global challenges

refugees in the world - the highest ever recorded1

people in East Africa going hungry as a result of drought2

children are out of school (primary and secondary) globally 3

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Where does aid go and why?

UK aid is required by law to be spent supporting the poorest people and countries in the world. ActionAid works with the Department for International Development (DfID) in countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malawi and Ethiopia.

About a third of the UK aid budget is spent through international organisations like the United Nations, World Health Organisation and World Bank, which tackle poverty and respond to humanitarian disasters like earthquakes or famine. 

What is foreign aid used for?

There are different types of foreign aid ranging from short term, emergency support during times of crisis to long term aid which supports acitivites to promote human rights, education and economic development.

Aid is vital because hundreds of millions of people around the world still live in extreme poverty. Many of them face huge challenges including limited access to healthcare and education, food shortages, disease, natural disasters and conflict.

Women and girls are often the most marginalised. All over the world women and girls have less social, economic and political power, which can lead to their human rights being denied or abused. Every year millions of girls miss out on school, are forced into early marriage or have to survive on the bare minimum.This can leave them trapped in a cycle of poverty and unable to claim their rights.

Humanitarian aid saves lives

UK aid saves lives when humanitarian disaster strikes. From the earthquakes which devastated Nepal in 2015, to Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the same year to and the hunger crisis in East Africa in 2017, the UK has provided life-saving aid and helped the world’s poorest people.
In East Africa, where drought has pushed millions of people to the brink of starvation, UK aid is providing life-saving food and water. In Somalia UK aid will provide up to 1 million people with emergency food assistance, over 600,000 starving children and pregnant and breastfeeding women with nutritional help and 1 million people with safe drinking water.
The Nepal earthquakes claimed more than 8,000 lives and destroyed over 600,000 homes. Communities were in crisis. ActionAid, with the support of UK aid, helped to provide emergency food, shelter and the means to begin rebuilding including tools and materials. 

After the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, UK aid provided

people with shelter1

people with hygiene kits2

women and children with support and advice through specially designed female friendly spaces3

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Aid supports long-term change

International aid provides long-term support to help people escape poverty. It helps improve access to healthcare and education and challenges structural issues which drive poverty, like inequality, corruption and corporate tax dodging.
In 2015-2016 alone UK aid funded the immunisation of 20 million children, saving 250,000 lives. It also helped 11.3 million people to access clean water and better sanitation.

This vital work not only saves lives but helps people to prosper in the long run. Aid goes a lot further than meeting basic needs. It helps tackle entrenched inequality and empowers people to claim their rights.  
In the last few years aid has helped millions of women to use modern methods of family planning, giving them greater choice over how to run their lives. In Afghanistan, it has helped millions of young girls go to school. Education is fundamental to creating opportunity, especially for girls who are so often pushed to the margins of society, forced to marry or shut out of all but the most basic jobs. With an education girls can unlock their potential and make their own choices about how to live their lives.

Does foreign aid work?

Aid spending is incredibly effective. Millions more children in the world’s poorest countries are alive today because aid supported their parents, provided medical care and immunised them against deadly diseases. People forced from their homes by natural disaster or war have been provided with food, water, medicine and shelter thanks to aid.

DfID, which oversees our efforts to combat global poverty, is a true world leader which delivers life-changing work in support of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world. American Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said that DfID is “widely recognized as one of the most effective, efficient, and innovative aid agencies in the world”; and Publish What You Fund rated it as “very good” (the highest category) in their Aid Transparency Index.1

DfID’s work boosts the UK’s international reputation and provides the foundation for a truly global Britain. The respected Overseas Development Institute, a think tank, found that UK aid spending not only helps the world’s poorest people, but it also boosts UK trade.2

Britain’s role in supporting some of the poorest people in the world means that we should be proud of its role at the forefront of international development.

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Page updated 24 September 2018