CHARITIES and church leaders have expressed anger and disappointment at the vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday to confirm a £4-billion cut in Britain’s international aid budget.
Many Tory MPs, including the former Prime Minster Theresa May, have opposed the cut, first announced by the Chancellor last November (News; Leader Comment, 19 November 2020), and have lobbied for an opportunity to challenge the move in the Commons (News, 11 June). Because the cut has been described as “temporary”, the present Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, argued that it did not need parliamentary approval.
In the event, MPs were offered a compromise motion in which the Government agreed to restore the legal commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income, but only when tests show that the UK is not borrowing to finance day-to-day spending, and underlying debt is falling. Despite a rebellion from 30 Conservative MPs, Mrs May among them, the Government’s motion was carried by 333 votes to 298.
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, the Church’s lead bishop for international development, said that the test could be so stringent that it risked making the cut permanent. Expressing his disappointment at Tuesday’s outcome, he said: “It is not right that the world’s poorest should be the only ones to suffer from a reduction in spending following the pandemic. The commitment was one of which the Conservative Party could be proud, and I hope it will be restored very soon.”
Daniel Willis of the campaign group Global Justice Now, said: “When the inevitable death and suffering from aid cuts hits the news, each and every MP who has voted to sever the UK’s 0.7-per-cent commitment should know that blood is on their hands.” The chief executive of Oxfam GB, Danny Sriskandarajah, described the vote as “a disaster for the world’s poorest people”.
Pete Moorey, head of UK advocacy and campaigns at Christian Aid, described the vote as “reckless”, saying that it would decimate aid for years to come. “It beggars belief that, in the middle of a global pandemic, with extreme poverty rising, we are turning our backs on the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.” In his view, the vote spoke of “a government trying to escape its responsibilities to the world’s poorest people” and would cause untold damage to Britain’s standing and reputation.
Lord Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, described the decision as a “ moral failure by the UK Government”, which would see the “continuation of harmful and damaging cuts to some of the world’s poorest people and most fragile communities”.
Earlier this week, a global group of philanthropists offered to contribute £93.5 million to make up part of the cuts. The Archbishop of Canterbury praised the move as “desperately needed”, but urged people to continue to pray “for the restoration of our promise to those living in extreme poverty: to love them as our neighbour through our commitment to the 0.7% aid target”.
The consortium, which includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the ELMA Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations, have heard that millions of vaccines for preventable diseases will expire if the means to administer them, arrested by the UK aid cut, are not restored. They will also seek to support family-planning clinics.
Kate Hampton, the chief executive of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, said: “These life-saving treatments are cost-effective investments. If they go unfunded this year, British taxpayer generosity will be wasted as clinics are closed and essential drugs expire and are thrown away.”
Lord Malloch-Brown, president of Open Society Foundations, which is contributing $10 million to health services for poor women, said: “We are a human-rights not a development organisation, but the British aid cuts have cruelly targeted this most fundamental right of women to control their reproductive lives.
“It is a shameful betrayal of British values in the world and risks a generation of unplanned pregnancies and families driven into poverty. We are stepping in to cover part of these broken British commitments on a one-off basis to give Parliament time to correct this historic injustice against women.”
Last month, aid agencies warned that the cuts had left 70,000 people without health services and 100,000 without water in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee settlement, before the deadly cyclone season.
In April, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said that the £130 million cut from their British grant would have helped prevent 250,000 child and maternal deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies, and 4.3 million unsafe abortions.
The same month, 19 aid agencies made a joint last-minute appeal to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office to suspend planned aid cuts to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a third of the population faces acute food insecurity.
A British government spokesperson said: “The UK will spend more than £10 billion to improve global health, fight poverty, and tackle climate change this year — making us one of the biggest aid donors in the G7. We have always been clear that the Government will return to spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on international development as soon as the fiscal situation allows.”