Department for International Development

Department for International Development
Welsh: Yr Adran Datblygu Rhyngwladol

Department for International Development (London office) (far right)
Department overview
Formed 1997
Preceding Department
  • Overseas Development Administration
Jurisdiction United Kingdom
Headquarters 22 Whitehall, London, England
East Kilbride, Scotland
Annual budget £8.5bn and £2.6bn (capital) totalling £11.1bn (2015-16)[1]
Minister responsible
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The Department for International Development (DfID) is a United Kingdom government department responsible for administering overseas aid. The goal of the department is "to promote sustainable development and eliminate world poverty". DfID is headed by the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for International Development. The position is held since 14 July 2016 by Priti Patel. In a 2010 report by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), DfID was described as "an international development leader in times of global crisis".[2] The UK aid logo is often used to publicly acknowledge DfID's development programmes are funded by UK taxpayers.

DfID's main programme areas of work are Education, Health, Social Services, Water Supply and Sanitation, Government and Civil Society, Economic Sector (including Infrastructure, Production Sectors and Developing Planning), Environment Protection, Research, and Humanitarian Assistance.

In 2009/10 DfID’s Gross Public Expenditure on Development was £6.65bn. Of this £3.96bn was spent on Bilateral Aid (including debt relief, humanitarian assistance and project funding) and £2.46bn was spent on Multilateral Aid (including support to the EU, World Bank, UN and other related agencies).[3] Although the Department for International Development’s foreign aid budget was not affected by the cuts outlined by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s 2010 spending review, DfID will see their administration budgets slashed by approximately 19 percent over the next four years. This would mean a reduction in back-office costs to account for only 2 percent of their total spend by 2015.[4]

In June 2013 as part of the 2013 Spending Round outcomes it was announced that DfID's total programme budget would increase to £10.3bn in 2014/15 and £11.1bn in 2015/16 to help meet the UK government's commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI (Gross National Income) on ODA (Official Development Assistance). DfID is responsible for the majority of UK ODA; projected to total £11.7bn in 2014/15 and £12.2bn in 2015/16.[5]

The National Audit Office (NAO) 2009 Performance Management review [6] looked at how DfID has restructured its performance management arrangements over the last 6 years. The report responded to a request from DfID’s Accounting Officer to re-visit the topic periodically, which the Comptroller and Auditor General agreed would be valuable. The study found that DfID had improved in its general scrutiny of progress in reducing poverty and of progress towards divisional goals, however noted that there was still clear scope for further improvement.

In 2016 DfID was taken to task with accusations of misappropriation of funding in the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. Whistleblower Sean McLaughlin commenced legal action against the Department in the Eastern Caribbean Court[7] questioning the DfID fraud investigation process.


The DfID Ministers are as follows:[8]

Minister Rank Portfolio (by geographic region)
Priti Patel Secretary of State for International Development Overall responsibility (including Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East peace process)
Rory Stewart OBE Minister of State Asia, British Overseas Territories and Western Asia (including Eastern Europe), Middle East and North Africa, conflict, humanitarian, security, governance and anti-corruption, economic development, Scotland engagement, lead Abercrombie House Minister
James Wharton Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Africa, Human Development, Climate and Environment, Research and Evidence, Global Funds, Emerging Policy, Innovation and Capability
The Rt Hon. Lord Bates Minister of State The Commonwealth (as an institution), Overseas Territories (excluding Falklands, SBAs and Gibraltar), the Caribbean, human rights, the UN, international organisations, peacekeeping and the International Criminal Court, climate change, international energy security policy and departmental business in the House of Lords

The current Permanent Secretary is Mark Lowcock.[9][10]


A UK-supported scheme in Nepal is helping make sure children go to school rather than work in fields.

The main piece of legislation governing DfID's work is the International Development Act,[11] which came into force on 17 June 2002, replacing the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act (1980). The Act makes poverty reduction the focus of DfID's work, and effectively outlaws tied aid.[12]

As well as responding to disasters and emergencies, DfID works to support the United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals, namely to:

all with a 2015 deadline.

Former Secretary of State Hilary Benn has indicated that on current trends, we will not achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.[13] Although by 2010, mainly thanks to high growth in India and China who had 62% of the world's poor in 1990 there has been significant global progress towards meeting the millennium goals.[14]


Old headquarters building of Department for International Development in London

The Department has its origins in the Ministry of Overseas Development (ODM) created during the Labour government of 1964–70, which combined the functions of the Department of Technical Cooperation and the overseas aid policy functions of the Foreign, Commonwealth Relations, and Colonial Offices and of other government departments.

After the election of a Conservative government in October 1970, the Ministry of Overseas Development was incorporated into the Foreign Office and renamed the Overseas Development Administration (ODA). The ODA was overseen by a minister of state in the Foreign Office who was accountable to the Foreign Secretary. Though it became a section of the Foreign Office, the ODA was relatively self-contained with its own minister, and the policies, procedures, and staff remained largely intact.

When a Labour government was returned to office in 1974, it announced that there would once again be a separate Ministry of Overseas Development with its own minister. From June 1975 the powers of the minister for overseas development were formally transferred to the Foreign Secretary.

In 1977, partly to shore up its difficult relations with U.K. business, the government introduced the Aid and Trade Provision. This enabled aid to be linked to nonconcessionary export credits, with both aid and export credits tied to procurement of British goods and services. Pressure for this provision from U.K. businesses and the Department of Trade and Industry arose in part because of the introduction of French mixed credit programmes, which had begun to offer French government support from aid funds for exports, including for projects in countries to which France had not previously given substantial aid.

After the election of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, the ministry was transferred back to the Foreign Office, as a functional wing again named the Overseas Development Administration. The ODA continued to be represented in the cabinet by the foreign secretary while the minister for overseas development, who had day-to-day responsibility for development matters, held the rank of minister of state within the Foreign Office.

In the 1980s part of the agency's operations were relocated to East Kilbride, with a view to creating jobs in an area subject to long-term industrial decline.

The department was separated from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1997.

DFID or the ODA's role has been under:

In Cabinet Outside Cabinet
Separate Government Department 1964–67
Answerable to the FCO 1975–76 1970–74
UK aid logo

Over its history the department for international development and its predecessors have been independent departments or part of the foreign office.[15] In 1997 Labour separated the Department for International Development from the Foreign Office. They also reduced the amount of aid tied to purchasing British goods and services which often led to aid being spent ineffectually.[16]

Along with the Nordic countries DfID has generally avoided setting up its own programmes as that can create unnecessary bureaucracy.[17] To achieve this DfID distributes most of its money to governments and other international organisations that have already developed suitable programmes and lets them distribute the money as efficiently as possible.[17] In July 2009 DfID rebranded all its aid programmes with the UK aid logo, to make clear the contributions are coming from the people of the United Kingdom.[18][19] While the decision met with some controversy among aid workers at the time, Commons International Development Select Committee Chairman Malcolm Bruce explained the rebranding saying "the name DfID does not reflect the fact that this is a British organisation; it could be anything. The Americans have USAID, Canada has got CIDA."[20]

Pergau Dam

When it was the Overseas Development Administration, a scandal erupted concerning the UK funding of a hydroelectric dam on the Pergau River in Malaysia, near the Thai border. Building work began in 1991 with money from the UK foreign aid budget. Concurrently, the Malaysian government bought around £1 billion worth of arms from the UK. The suggested linkage of arms deals to aid became the subject of a UK government inquiry from March 1994. In November 1994, after an application for judicial review (R v Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ex p The World Development Movement) brought by the World Development Movement, the High Court held that the then-Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd had acted ultra vires (outside of his power and therefore illegally) by allocating £234 million towards the funding of the dam, on the grounds that it was not of economic or humanitarian benefit to the Malaysian people.[21]


In February 2015, DfID has ended its financial support for a controversial development project alleged to have helped the Ethiopian government fund a brutal resettlement programme.[22][23] Four million people were forced off their land by security forces while their homes and farms were sold to foreign investors.[24]

Department for International Development building in East Kilbride


In 2010 DfID were criticised for spending around £15 million a year in the UK, although this only accounts for 0.25% of their total budget.[25] £1.85 million was given to the Foreign Office to fund the Papal visit of Pope Benedict in September 2010, although a department spokesman said that "The contribution recognised the Catholic Church's role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries".[26] There has also been criticism of some spending by international organisations with UNESCO and the FAO being particularly weak.[27] The government were also criticised for increasing the aid budget at a time where other departments were being cut. The head of the conservative pressure group Taxpayers Alliance said that "The department should at least get the same treatment other high priority areas like science did – a cash freeze would save billions.".[28] In November 2015, DfID released a new policy document titled "UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest".[29] In 2010 the incoming coalition government promised to reduce back-office costs to only 2% of the budget and to improve transparency by publishing more on their website.[27]

The budget for 2011-12 was £6.7 billion including £1.4 billion of capital.[30]

International grants table

The following table lists committed funding from DfID for the top 15 sectors, as recorded in DfID's International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) publications. DfID joined IATI in January 2011 but also records grants before that point.[31] The sectors use the names from the DAC 5 Digit Sector list.[32]

Committed funding (GBP millions)
Sector Before 2011 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 Sum
Material relief assistance and services 527.6 213.2 318.3 494.1 758.1 492.0 231.1 0.0 3,034.4
Emergency food aid 479.0 181.7 347.4 269.6 353.3 137.4 148.2 0.0 1,916.5
Primary education 856.2 521.8 474.7 91.2 44.3 49.3 216.9 0.0 2,254.4
Social/ welfare services 980.6 268.4 225.8 376.6 32.3 235.8 40.3 0.0 2,159.8
Environmental policy and administrative management 400.2 194.3 284.0 107.2 300.8 136.4 113.2 0.0 1,536.2
Public sector policy and administrative management 1,352.4 151.1 249.1 159.0 251.3 109.8 115.6 0.0 2,388.4
Education policy and administrative management 1,153.6 328.4 504.2 64.1 101.1 10.8 6.4 1.5 2,170.1
Multisector aid 753.1 805.0 155.4 8.2 9.6 1.5 0.7 0.0 1,733.5
Relief co-ordination; protection and support services 170.9 71.4 115.6 145.3 320.0 119.8 177.5 0.0 1,120.4
Reproductive health care 720.5 308.6 267.0 161.0 65.8 91.4 47.9 0.0 1,662.2
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) development 173.8 16.1 583.2 58.8 147.3 17.2 49.5 0.0 1,046.0
Basic health care 477.3 287.5 165.7 84.3 37.2 179.3 43.8 0.0 1,275.0
Financial policy and administrative management 520.8 51.5 285.4 56.7 101.4 12.3 49.2 0.0 1,077.2
Agricultural development 179.0 142.1 37.4 102.0 161.5 72.2 33.0 0.0 727.1
Family planning 236.8 175.6 136.4 75.7 38.0 44.7 31.1 0.0 738.3
Other 28,828.3 9,225.2 4,636.4 2,479.2 2,217.2 1,521.6 1,611.9 36.9 50,519.9
Total 37,810.1 12,941.7 8,785.8 4,733.0 4,939.3 3,231.6 2,916.4 38.5 75,396.4

DfID research

DfID is the largest bilateral donor of development-focused research. New science, technologies and ideas are crucial for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, but global research investments are insufficient to match needs and do not focus on the priorities of the poor. Many technological and policy innovations require an international scale of research effort. For example, DfID was a major donor to the International LUBILOSA Programme: which developed a biological pesticide for locust control in support of small-holder farmers in the Sahel.

DfID Research commissions research to help fill this gap, aiming to ensure tangible outcomes on the livelihoods of the poor worldwide. They also seek to influence the international and UK research agendas, putting poverty reduction and the needs of the poor at the forefront of global research efforts.

DfID Research manages long-term research initiatives that cut across individual countries or regions, and only funds activities if there are clear opportunities and mechanisms for the research to have a significant impact on poverty.

Research is funded through a range of mechanisms, including Research Programme Consortia (RPCs), jointly with other funders of development research, with UK Research Councils and with multilateral agencies (such as the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Health Organisation).[33] Information on both DfID current research programmes and completed research can be found on the (R4D) portal Research4Development.[34] From November 2012 all new DfID-funded research will be subject to its Open and Enhanced Access Policy.[35] International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell declared that this will ensure "that these findings get into the hands of those in the developing world who stand to gain most from putting them into practical use".[36]

DfID launched its first Research Strategy in April 2008.[37] This emphasises DfID's commitment to funding high quality research that aims to find solutions and ways of reducing global poverty. The new strategy identifies six priorities:

The strategy also highlights three important cross-cutting areas, where DfID will invest more funding:

DfID has recently reviewed progress on its Research Strategy[47]


DFID is scrutinised by the British House of Commons International Development Committee and Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

See also


  1. Autumn Statement and Spending Review 2015 (PDF). HM Government. 27 November 2015. p. 91. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  4. "DfID's Aid Budget Spared from UK Spending Cuts - Devex".
  5. 2013 Spending Round Outcomes:
  6. "NAO Review - DFID: Progress in improving performance management - National Audit Office (NAO)".
  7. "Sean Ross Mclaughlin v Montserrat Development Corporation". Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. 2016-08-17. Retrieved 2016-11-19.
  8. "Department for International Development - GOV.UK".
  9. "Department for International Development - GOV.UK".
  14. "Global targets, local ingenuity". The Economist. 23 September 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  15. "Reforming Development Assistance: Lessons from the U.K. Experience" (PDF). Brookings Institution. 2006. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
  16. "Development: Clare Short's clean sheet". The Economist. 6 November 1997. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  17. 1 2 Elizabeth Pisani (2008). Wisdom of the Whores. Penguin. pp. 289, 293.
  18. "Departmental Marketing: 21 Jul 2009: Hansard Written Answers - TheyWorkForYou".
  19. "UK aid - standards for using the logo". DFID. 2 July 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  20. Britain's Help to the third World to be rebranded UKAid July 4, 2009 article from The Independent
  22. British support for Ethiopia scheme withdrawn amid abuse allegations, 27 February 2015, Sam Jones, Mark Anderson, The Guardian, retrieved at 13 January 2016
  23. The refugee who took on the British government, 12 January 2016, Ben Rawlence, The Guardian, retrieved at 13 January 2016
  24. UK foreign aid: Ethiopian sues Britain after claiming our £1.3billion programme supports 'Stalinist' regime that sent him to world's biggest refugee camp, 25 May 2013, Ian Birrell Daily Mail, retrieved at 13 January 2016
  25. Mendick, Robert (13 February 2010). "£50m of Government's international aid budget spent in the UK". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  26. "MPs query £1.85m overseas aid spent on Pope visit". BBC. 3 February 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
  27. 1 2 "More is more?". The Economist. 10 June 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2011. (subscription required)
  28. Copping, Jasper (15 January 2011). "Where our overseas aid goes: salsa in Cambridge, coffee in Yorkshire". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  29. "UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest - Publications - GOV.UK".
  30. Budget 2011 (PDF). London: HM Treasury. 2011. p. 48. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  31. "About - UK - Department for International Development (DFID)". IATI Registry. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  32. "DAC 5 Digit Sector". The IATI Standard. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  34. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  35. "Overseas aid transparency - GOV.UK".
  36. Jha, Alok (25 July 2012). "UK government will enforce open access to development research". The Guardian. London.
  37. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line" (PDF).
  38. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  39. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  40. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  41. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  42. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  43. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  44. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  45. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  46. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".
  47. "DFID Finances Research Projects carried out by Finish Line".

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