Charities say people will die and millions of lives will be damaged as Sunak slashes foreign aid budget
The UK’s Tory government has been accused of trying to balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest.
Charities said that people will die and millions will suffer “irreversible damage” after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced he is slashing the foreign aid budget.
It will be cut from 0.7% of Gross National Income to 0.5% in an attempt to cut the UK’s Covid-hit deficit.
In the real world than means up to £6 billion less going to help the world’s poorest, at a time of global pandemic.
It also means that the UK defaults on its legal commitments and will see the country take a huge hit in its international standing.
This week was speculated that the Tory government would need to bring in laws to allow it to renege on its aid pledge.
However, Sunak has made it clear he will plough ahead – fearful of a revolt on the matter even within Tory ranks.
No commitment has been made about when the 0.7% commitment will be restored, leading to fears that it will be permanent.
There are also concerns that the entire aid budget could be in the firing line.
Right wing MPs and ideologues in the Tory party have long had it in their sights – just as 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.
Almost 200 charities, opposition parties, church leaders, ex-heads of the armed forces and global philanthropists had all come out against cuts, which were announced in super-wealthy Sunak’s Spending Review.
Global organisation Mercy Corps called the announcement a “huge step backwards for global Britain”.
It said the UK should be leading the agenda on tackling the overwhelming triple threats of the climate crisis, ongoing conflict, and the global pandemic - all of which are falling hardest on the poorest and most vulnerable.
Alexandra Angulo, interim executive director, said: “The UK has a unique opportunity to lead the agenda on tackling the climate crisis ahead of hosting COP26 next year. Instead, we are proactively taking money away from the very communities living on the frontlines of the crisis, who are falling into extreme hunger and poverty as a result of ever-more-frequent extreme weather events that are destroying their livelihoods.
“Put simply, cutting aid will cause irreversible damage to millions of lives at a time where vulnerable countries face the biggest economic crisis in a generation and famine is once again a real threat for millions of people.
“We urge the government to ensure humanitarian aid, peacebuilding and climate action remains at the forefront of the UK’s international development plans. This temporary cut must not become the norm, and international aid must continue to go to those that need it most.”
This was echoed by Stuart Robertson, director of disability charity Leonard Cheshire in Scotland, who said: “The UK government’s decision to cut aid spending is concerning at a time when vulnerable communities need it the most.
“At a time when we are preparing to present ourselves as a ‘Global Britain’ in hosting the G7 and COP26, it is important that we do not lose sight of what we can achieve for persons with disabilities around the world.
“Our contribution to foreign aid plays a key role in the inclusion of persons with disabilities in overseas development programmes.”
Tim Wainwright, chief executive of WaterAid, put it bluntly when he said that Sunak’s cut will lead to the death of children.
He said: “As a nation we should be proud of our overseas aid spending – in the last five years alone every tax payer has helped to bring clean water and better sanitation to 62 million people.
“If the proposed cuts are applied across the board, in the next year three to four million people will be denied clean water. This means more preventable child deaths, lost days of work, and women and girls missing many opportunities because of the daily drudgery of fetching water.
“The government wants to lead on making the world safer and more prosperous for us all, and today it has taken a huge step away from that ambition.”
Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, added: “The prime minister and chancellor have broken a manifesto commitment, broken a promise to the world’s poorest people and broken Britain’s reputation for leadership on the world stage.
“In the midst of a global pandemic and a climate crisis, and with the UK about to host both the G7 and COP 26, this move is a hammer blow to British impact in international development just when it was most important that we held our resolve.
“The government has chosen to balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest people.”
Sunak said: “We made a choice to prioritise people’s jobs, public services and helping the country get through coronavirus. I think it is a choice the British people will support.”