THE Government’s promise to restore the UK aid budget to 0.7 per cent “has been broken and must be put right”, the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster have said.
In November, the Government announced that it was cutting its aid budget from its commitment of 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent, as a result of the pandemic (News, 27 November 2020). Last month, the Prime Minister told MPs that they would not get a chance to vote on the cuts to the aid budget, as the proposed reduction was only temporary, and the figure would return to 0.7 per cent “when the fiscal situation allows” (News, 19 March).
In a joint article published in the Evening Standard on Tuesday, Archbishop Welby and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, write: “In the small print of the recent Integrated Review of defence, diplomacy, and development was a pledge to return the aid budget to 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income. This would honour the many promises made and deliver on the duty imposed by Parliament.
“But saying the Government will only do this ‘when the fiscal situation allows’ is deeply worrying, suggesting that it will act in contravention of its legally binding target. This promise, repeatedly made even during the pandemic, has been broken and must be put right.”
The “hastily implemented cuts” were already “doing real damage to life-saving work” in Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan, they write. “Promises — and truth — matter in politics, as in all walks of life. It is never too late to do the right thing. . . Britain cannot prosper if it shrinks from its international responsibilities.”
The Archbishops conclude: “Just as the UK has shown leadership on global efforts on vaccination, so we must show leadership on the climate crisis and that requires leadership on international development. Keeping our promises to the world’s poorest people would be a good start.
“Balancing the books during a pandemic on the backs of the world’s poorest is not acceptable, when Britain should be setting an example and proving our standing as a world leader. Ultimately however, this is not only about ‘global Britain’, it is about morality and fulfilling our promise to people who live in poverty. Too often we use the phrase ‘the world is watching’, but on this occasion it is true. We must rise to the occasion.”