More than 200 charities join campaign to make sure Westminster meets its commitments to the world's poorest
There was dismay among charities this week at plans by the Westminster Tory government to slash aid funding.
New laws may be passed allowing the UK to renege on its commitments to the world’s poorest – at the height of a global pandemic.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak had planned to simply not meet the country’s requirements to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid, saying he had to balance books because the UK – which has just pledged an extra £16 billion in military spending – has to start making up the government’s record, Covid-induced deficit.
However, simply reneging on its commitment could meet a legal challenge – so the government plans to pass laws which allow it to cut the figure it provides to 0.5%.
This is on top of a cut of £2.9bn following a contraction in the economy cause by the pandemic. A further reduction will amount to around twice that figure.
There are also fears that this cut – which the government is saying is temporary due to the coronavirus – could become permanent or lead to the aid budget’s abolition, as some MPs and right wing ideologues in the Tory party have long had the UK’s aid commitment in their sights with the long term aim of scrapping it altogether.
They had previously targeted the Department for International Development – and won a victory when Prime Minister Johnson merged it with the Foreign Office. NGOs warned then that this was a massive step backwards.
Now almost 200 charities, opposition parties, church leaders, ex-heads of the armed forces and global philanthropists have all come out against the new cuts.
Jane Salmonson, chief executive of Scotland’s International Development Alliance, told TFN: “The threat to reduce the 0.7% commitment of UK gross national income to official development assistance (ODA), to 0.5%, couldn’t have come at our worse time for people in low income countries. We have already cut our ODA by around £2.9bn, because of the percentage formula which entails ODA shrinking as the economy shrinks.
“The World Bank estimates that the global pandemic has added an extra 150 million people to the realms of those living in extreme poverty. I accept that poverty levels have spread and deepened in our own country too, but can we really buy lasting solutions to our own problems of poverty by further reducing our ODA, using the money saved to make just a small contribution towards meeting the deficit in our public funding?
“Can the prime minister explain to me why the world’s poorest should be paying to help our re-financing?”
Alexandra Angulo, executive director of Mercy Corps, said: "An estimated 115 million more people are due to fall into poverty this year, reversing decades of social growth, and resulting in previously unseen levels of food shortages and hunger - something we are seeing first hand in the countries where we work.
"As the long term global economic effects of Covid-19 set in, and the impacts of the climate crisis continue to devastate the lives and livelihoods of entire communities, this is the worst possible time to reduce the amount spent on delivering international aid.
"Even a temporary cut to foreign aid spending will result in long-term, perhaps irreversible, consequences for the most vulnerable communities across the world. Going back on our commitment at this point risks allowing communities - and in some cases entire countries - to sink into poverty traps that they may never recover from.
"The UK stands at the forefront of delivering international support, building peace in conflict-affected areas and leading the fight against the climate crisis. We urge the government to maintain our world-leading commitment to international development at a time when Global Britain has never been needed more."
Gemma Hope, director of policy at disability charity Leonard Cheshire, added: “While the Covid-19 pandemic is having detrimental effects worldwide, it is people with disabilities who are being disproportionately affected. To cut aid spending at a time where the poorest and most marginalised groups need it the most would be a travesty.”
A government spokesperson said the UK "is and will remain one of the biggest contributors to aid of any country on Earth.
“We should be incredibly proud of what Britain does to support people around the world.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is due to make a statement to MPs on the matter on Thursday (26 November).