ALMOST 200 British humanitarian, development, and domestic charities have called on the Prime Minister not to cut the UK’s foreign aid budget.
They were responding to strong hints that next week’s spending review by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will include a reduction of the amount of the country’s gross national income (GNI) spent on aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent.
Leaders of 185 organisations, from the National Federation of Women’s Institutes to Save the Children, Christian Aid, and Friends of the Earth, have signed an open letter in which they say that any cut in the £15-billion UK aid spend would be “a significant threat” to development, and could “seriously jeopardise” the UK’s long-term global Covid-19 response.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is expected to announce a series of financial strictures in the Commons on Wednesday as a consequence of the massive spending by the Government on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
In their letter, the signatories say: “We understand the challenges and difficulties the UK public faces. Covid-19 has cost more than a million lives and has strained economies around the world, including in the UK. However, at a time when 115 million people look set to be pushed back into extreme poverty, now is the time for an international, collaborative response to Covid-19.”
It continues: “A U-turn on your manifesto commitment to maintain the 0.7% target would signal we are a nation willing to balance its books on the backs of the world’s most marginalised people, many of whom are dealing with the impact of Covid-19 on top of existing hardship.
“This pandemic has shown us that no one is safe from this virus until we are all safe. The UK’s experience and credibility as a ‘development superpower’, rooted in its commitment and expertise, means it has a critical leadership role to play in helping strengthen global health systems and peacebuilding, tackle global challenges and reduce poverty to reduce the risks to us all from the next pandemic.”
The letter concludes: “It is a time that requires increased, not decreased, engagement from the British Government in its efforts to make the world healthier, safer and more prosperous.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury told The Observer on Sunday: “I’ve seen the good done by UK aid around the world. Our generosity and strategic input has genuinely changed lives and communities for the better. In his teaching, Jesus tells us we mustn’t limit our concept of neighbour simply to those close by to us. We need to heed that message in the tough times as well as the good.
“A global recovery from the economic consequences of the pandemic requires a global response. Keeping our aid commitment is a strong signal that the UK is a reliable partner for long-term economic, social, environmental, and educational advancement across the globe.”
The Area Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, who has worked in international development, including a period in Somalia, said: “I am appalled to hear that the Government is considering cutting the foreign aid budget. Covid is global, and the poorest are worst affected. Such a cut might be tempting for the Treasury, but, as Christian Aid says, it is a backward and unjust step that breaks a manifesto promise made less than a year ago. Desperate people would bear the cost, and the impact on the poorest countries will last for a very long time to come.”
The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, said that he would be “hugely disappointed” if the aid budget was cut. “It would renege on a manifesto commitment: we were told this would not be a consequence of DfID merging with the FCO; and given the huge increase in defence expenditure it cannot be argued that the UK cannot afford it. Aid is a very effective way of the UK exercising soft power in the world.”
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said that he was “greatly disturbed” by the reports. “Successive governments have done something very significant by maintaining it even during the darkest days of austerity. It was an inspirational example to set to other nations, and it brought substantive relief to the poorest in our world. That relief is all the more important in the face of the pandemic.
“I hope an pray with all my heart that the cut will not happen. It will not do to say that there is no money: the Government has just announced a huge increase in spending on defence. A cut to foreign aid would sit very uncomfortably with that.”
The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, wrote on Twitter on Sunday: “Sticking to the 0.7% GDP International Aid budget is not only morally right, it’s in the UK’s self interest too.”
In a joint statement, the President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Richard Teal, and the Vice-President, Carolyn Lawrence, said: “It is vital that we preserve the UK’s reputation as a champion of global justice. A measure of a nation’s values is seen not only by actions in times of plenty, but by resolve during other times, too.
“As Christians, we believe it is our duty to stand alongside our global neighbours, and seek justice for the most vulnerable. As we are called to love our neighbours — wherever they might be — remaining vocally committed to 0.7% GNI is a moral imperative.”
Graeme Hodge, the chief executive of All We Can, the Methodist relief and development charity, said: “We must remain committed to our global neighbours, especially during these challenging times, when international aid has never been more needed.
“As Covid-19 threatens to wipe out 25 years of development progress and force many millions back into poverty, we must continue to support the most vulnerable through UK Aid. Remaining committed to 0.7% GNI ensures many more marginalised communities across the globe can rebuild and recover in the wake of Covid-19.”
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