The UK’s commitment to international development has weakened thanks to aid cuts and less focus on poverty reduction, an international think tank has said.
The Centre for Global Development said that, while the UK had once been the leading G7 nation in its Commitment to Development Index (CDI), the decision to reduce the aid budget to 0.5% of GDP has seen Britain slip behind France and Germany in the annual rankings.
The UK had previously been the only G7 country in the top five nations in the index, which measures commitment to international development across areas including finance, migration, climate change and security.
But the 2023 edition of the CDI, published on Wednesday, saw the UK fall to seventh place, with Germany rising to second, just behind Sweden. France is now in fifth place, falling from second in the previous edition in 2021.
Ian Mitchell, one of the senior figures behind the CDI, said: “Once lauded as a leader on international development, the UK has dropped out of the top five and been overtaken by both France and Germany on the Commitment to Development Index. Germany is now the G7 country doing the most to tackle the most important global challenges.
“Major cuts to the UK’s aid budget, and a reduced focus on poverty reduction, have outweighed improvements it has made, such as its trade-for-development policy.”
The UK’s fall in the rankings follows the decision in 2021 to reduce the aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%. The Government has promised to return aid spending to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows.
The Centre for Global Development (CGD) said the quality of the UK’s development finance has fallen, with less of a focus on poverty reduction, even before the Government had started spending a large portion of the aid budget on housing asylum seekers in hotels.
The UK’s poverty reduction work, however, remains above average for wealthy countries, even as its position in the CDI’s ranking for this subject has fallen from 10th to 14th, behind both the US and Italy.
Sarah Champion, a Labour MP and chair of the House of Commons International Development Committee, said: “The UK used to have a seat at any table as our development work was proof we did the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right way.
“In a spectacular error of judgement, by cutting the aid budget and then using a large proportion of the balance on our own soil, the Government has dramatically reduced our international credibility and presents us as a nation that doesn’t care – which is simply not true.”
Migration policy is the UK’s weakest area of the CDI, despite the influx of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, with the country taking 4.9 refugees per 1,000 people compared with an average of 9.7 across the world’s 40 richest countries.
The UK has also dropped down the rankings in terms of its commitment to the environment, falling from 10th to 12th, with the Centre for Global Development questioning the ambition of the UK’s carbon reduction targets.
The think tank said the UK could improve by reducing its production of fossil fuels, as well as fossil fuel-related subsidies.
But there was praise for the UK’s security policies, where it ranked second thanks to contributions to peacekeeping forces and efforts protecting sea lanes.
The UK’s health contribution has also improved, rising from 20th to 10th in the rankings since 2021.
Sweden, Germany and Norway topped the overall rankings, with Finland and France completing the top five and the Netherlands coming sixth, just ahead of the UK.
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “As this report demonstrates the UK remains a leader in overseas development, spending nearly £12.8 billion on aid in 2022. Our International Development Strategy sets out how we are using all the tools at our disposal to deliver on our development goals, such as through investment in global trade and security – and the CGD’s index recognises the value of this approach.
“We are due to nearly double the aid budget for lower income countries next year, including in Africa where aid will rise from £646 million to £1.364 billion, helping to reduce poverty, alleviate the devastating impacts of climate change and protect the world’s most vulnerable people.”