REDUCING Britain’s international-aid budget will be a false economy, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, said in the House of Lords last week.
Speaking in a debate on the Government’s decision to cut overseas aid by £4 billion (News, 27 November 2020), he said: “What is lost could far outweigh the relatively small financial gain.” Other countries, especially China, were seeking to increase their involvement and consequently their influence. “When we withdraw, others are poised to come in,” he said. “We take care that our involvement is well motivated and for the good; that of others may be less so.”
The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, asked how, in the light of the cuts and an increased emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region, Britain could have a positive influence in areas such as the Middle East and Africa. “How do we project ourselves with greater effect around the globe if we cut aid, have a historically numerically small military force, have a reduced diplomatic presence, and operate one of the most expensive immigration and nationality systems in the world?” he asked.
Others have joined in voicing opposition to the cuts. They threatened work on combating Covid-19, said Professor Oliver Pybus of the University of Oxford, one of the team who identified the Kent and Brazilian variants of the virus. Funding for his £20-million international research project to examine emerging epidemics and antimicrobial resistance was being reduced by up to 70 per cent, he said, making his project unviable, and in effect “killing it dead”. It would take years to rebuild fractured international networks and relationships, even if the cuts were reversed, he warned.
The cuts will also affect the United Nations global family-planning programme. The UN Population Fund says that the UK pledged £154 million, but now it will give just £23 million. The decision would be “devastating for women and girls and their families across the world”, the fund’s executive director, Dr Natalia Kanem, said. She estimated that the money lost would have helped to prevent about 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies, and 4.3 million unsafe abortions.
The Government has said that Covid meant that tough but necessary decisions were needed, and temporary reductions in aid spending were vital as the pandemic had badly affected public finances. The Prime Minister has said that he hopes that the cuts can be reversed “when the fiscal situation allows” (News, 19 March).