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Overseas-aid budget should be spent overseas, not on UK asylum-seekers, says Bishop of Worcester

19 April 2024

More than one quarter of the UK’s aid budget is being spent domestically

Alamy

A new block of flats, near Farnborough town centre, pictured this month, which is reportedly being used by the Home Office to house asylum-seekers while their claims are processed

A new block of flats, near Farnborough town centre, pictured this month, which is reportedly being used by the Home Office to house asylum-seekers whi...

OVERSEAS aid should be spent overseas, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, has said, after new data showed that more than one quarter of the UK’s aid budget was being spent domestically.

Figures released by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on the UK’s spending on aid in 2023 show that, out of a £15.3 billion total, £4.3 billion was spent on accommodating asylum-seekers.

On Tuesday, Dr Inge told the Church Times that using the overseas-aid budget to fund the costs of the asylum system meant that much-needed money was not being spent abroad.

Current rules allow overseas aid to be spent on “in-donor refugee costs” in the UK — which include accommodation and other living expenses for refugees who have arrived within the previous year.

Dr Inge emphasised that he did not object to the Government’s spending money on asylum-seekers, but said that the allocation of the overseas-aid budget for this purpose amounted, in effect, to further cuts, after a cut to the budget of 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) in 2020.

Dr Inge has previously spoken in the House of Lords about the cuts, and asked why the Government had not delivered on its promise to restore the budget to 0.7 per cent of GNI “when fiscal circumstances allow” (News, 22 March).

He reiterated this on Tuesday, saying that the most recent budget included “giveaways”, but no return to the Conservative Party manifesto promise on aid expenditure.

“Through my own experience, and experience with Christian Aid and other organisations, I’ve seen the devastating effects of the cuts,” he said. “The people who are suffering most from reneging on a commitment to overseas aid are the poorest of the poor.”

FCDO figures show that the spending on bilateral-aid commitments was lower than on asylum-seekers in the UK, at £4.1 billion, and that spending on direct humanitarian assistance had dropped almost 20 per cent from the previous year: from £1.1 billion to £888 million.

Spending on asylum-seekers should come from the Home Office budget, Dr Inge said. “The overseas aid budget should be restricted to — wait for it — overseas aid!”

He referred to arguments that overseas-aid spending was in the national interest for a number of reasons, including the UK’s international reputation as a “truly civilised nation”, and the benefits of international stability.

“I believe in overseas aid from a Christian point of view: I believe in a God who has a bias towards the poor,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to help those who are in need, and these people are our neighbours, because we live in a global village now.

“In loving our neighbour as ourselves we are helping ourselves, and that principle holds true in overseas aid, because in helping other people we are enabling development which will be to everyone’s benefit.”

Last week, the Shadow Minister for International Development, Lisa Nandy MP, said that the use of the overseas-aid budget on the asylum system was “sticking-plaster politics at its worst”, and “terrible value for money for British taxpayers”.

A government spokesperson was reported by BBC News as saying that the UK was “nearly doubling our spend in low-income countries this financial year”, and that “last year’s budget was boosted by additional funding to support refugees in the UK, who have escaped oppression and conflict overseas, including from Ukraine and Afghanistan. We will continue to ensure our aid budget delivers value for money for British taxpayers.”

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