UK election: What it means for aid and development

Prime Minister Theresa May announces the snap election on 3 May, three years early. [Reuters]

Britain will go to the polls on 8 June with aid and development spending under unprecedented scrutiny.

Two years after the UK became the first major economy to meet the UN target of devoting 0.7% of gross national income to aid, the Whitehall vultures are circling.

Government departments including the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office are casting covetous glances at the £12bn aid budget, while allegations of wasteful spending on contractors and ill-conceived projects have fuelled wider criticism.

How are the main parties planning to negotiate this political minefield? Outlined below are the key commitments on aid and development contained in the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos. The Scottish National Party’s manifesto will be launched on Tuesday.

From refugees and arms sales to human rights and aid budgets, the main Tory, Labour and Lib Dem commitments on ending poverty and inequality explained:

Aid spending


  • Maintain commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid, but change the definition of development spending.
  • Reframe the rules governing aid spending. Failing that, change the law so that the country can use a “better definition of development spending”.
  • Align the aid budget with the sustainable development goals, the aims of which include ending extreme poverty, saving children’s lives and improving access to education for girls.


  • Maintain commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid.
  • Develop a targeted development agenda based on the principles of redistribution, social justice, women’s rights and poverty reduction.
  • End the Department for International Development’s self-regulation of private contractors.
  • Develop a cross-government strategy for ensuring the sustainable development goals are implemented, and report annually to parliament on the government’s performance.
  • Maintain commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid.
  • Develop a global education strategy to address the urgent funding crisis causing 263 million children to miss out on schooling.
  • Continue building the resilience of poorer countries to resist future disasters, invest in healthcare and infrastructure and train emergency response volunteers. Respond generously to humanitarian crises.
  • Introduce sustainable development goal audits of trade, investment and development deals, reviewing the impact of the deal on people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

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Asylum and refugees


  • Wherever possible, offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain.
  • Continue to work with other countries in Europe, and the UN, to review the international legal definitions of asylum and refugee status.


  • Within the first 100 days of government, produce a cross-departmental strategy to meet the UK’s international obligations on the refugee crisis.
  • Review arrangements for housing refugees in the UK.

Liberal Democrats

  • Offer safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees to prevent them from making dangerous journeys. For example, reform family reunion rules to make it easier for refugees to join relatives already living in safety in the UK.
  • Expand the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme to offer sanctuary to 50,000 people over the lifetime of the next parliament.
  • Reopen the Dubs unaccompanied child refugee scheme, which would take in 3,000 lone minors. Children would get indefinite leave to remain, meaning they would not be deported on turning 18.
  • End indefinite immigration detention by introducing a 28-day limit.
  • Process asylum claims more quickly, reducing the time genuine refugees must wait before they can settle into life in the UK.
  • Expect working-age asylum seekers who have waited more than six months for their claim to be processed to seek work like other benefit claimants, with benefits only available if they are unable to do so.
  • Offer asylum to people fleeing countries where their sexual orientation or gender identification means that they risk imprisonment, torture or execution, and stop deporting people at risk to such countries.



  • Significantly increase funding of UK-led medical and technical research into the biggest threats to global health and prosperity.


  • Invest in new public-health driven research and development to find affordable treatments for diseases in the developing world, including fighting TB, malaria, HIV/Aids and neglected tropical diseases.
  • Establish a centre for universal health coverage. This would provide global partnerships and support countries that want blanket healthcare, helping them to generate the funding and systems required for its delivery.

Liberal Democrats

  • Eliminate, within a generation, preventable diseases like TB, HIV and malaria and explore new ways to support research and development into vaccinations and treatment to combat these and other deadly diseases and infections.
  • Seek to protect global spending on vaccination and family planning spending.



  • Immediately suspend any further arms sales for use in the Yemen conflict until there has been an independent, UN-led investigation into alleged violations.
  • Implement the Arms Trade Treaty and cease arms exports to countries where there is concern that they will be used to violate international humanitarian law.

Liberal Democrats

  • Suspend UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Control arms exports to countries listed as human rights priority countries in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual human rights report.
  • Enforce end-user certification on all future arms export licences, with an annual report to parliament on the process.
  • Create a public register of arms brokers.

Human rights


  • Review the application of exploitation in the Modern Slavery Act so that it is easier to stop criminals putting men, women and children into criminal, dangerous and exploitative working conditions.
  • Harness British influence to push the UN and other international bodies to end modern slavery.


  • Reinstate the defunct civil society challenge fund to support global trade unions, women’s associations and other civil society organisations in winning human rights and workers’ rights.
  • Reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure the protection of transgender rights.
  • Bring the law on LGBT hate crimes into line with hate crimes based on race and faith.
  • Promote LGBT equality in education and access to public services.
  • Promote the safety of women and girls by appointing a commissioner to set new standards for tackling domestic and sexual violence.

Liberal Democrats

  • Aim to end female genital mutilation worldwide within a generation.
  • Appoint an ambassador-level champion for freedom of belief to drive British diplomatic efforts in this field, and campaign for the abolition of blasphemy, sedition, apostasy and criminal libel laws worldwide.
  • Develop a strategy for promoting the global decriminalisation of homosexuality and advance the cause of LGBT rights.

What does Trump mean for development aid?

Concerns that Donald Trump will dramatically cut US aid spending and oversee a withdrawal from global development have sent shockwaves through NGOs and others who fear what the impact of his presidency will be on the world’s largest donor of international humanitarian and development funding.

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