Management of the 0.7% ODA spending target in 2020

The government successfully met its aid spending target in 2020 through reprioritising programmes as the COVID-19 pandemic hit – but economic uncertainty and the government’s ‘cut once, cut deep’ approach meant that cuts to bilateral aid were ultimately more drastic than they needed to be.

  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 20 May 2021
  3. Type: Rapid review
  4. Subject: Government processes and systems
  5. Lead commissioner: Tamsyn Barton

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We published our report on the management of the 0.7% ODA spending target in 2020 and made two recommendations. It builds on a broader review of the government’s management of the spending target published a year earlier. We’ve followed up on the government’s progress implementing our recommendations for both reviews together. Find out more on the ‘Further scrutiny‘ tab.


In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a major realignment of the UK aid programme. Between March and December 2020, the UK government spent £1.39 billion of UK ODA to support the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, in April 2020, the impact of COVID-19 on the UK economy resulted in a sharp fall in projected gross national income (GNI).

This prompted the government, which was committed to achieving but not exceeding the official development assistance (ODA) spending target of 0.7% of GNI, to plan a £2.94 billion (19%) in-year reduction in aid spending for 2020 – resulting in major implications for both multilateral spend and ongoing bilateral projects, including the cancellation, postponement and reprioritisation of planned programmes.

Further changes to the UK’s aid budget are expected as a result of the temporary reduction of the UK’s ODA spending target from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI in 2021.

This review captures lessons from the management of the ODA spending target in the context of a declining GNI in 2020, for use in 2021, but does not comment on events in 2021, and does not cover the 0.5% target decision itself. It builds on our earlier rapid review of the management of the 0.7% ODA spending target (which covered the period 2013-19), which was published last year. As a rapid review, it is not scored.



Published 4 March 2021

Evidence gathering


Review publication

Published 20 May 2021

Government response

Published 16 August 2021

ICAI follow-up

Published 30 June 2022

Further follow-up

Published 18 July 2023