UK overseas aid budget: Time to stand together

by 18th Nov 2020
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Rumours are circulating once again about a possible cut to the UK’s overseas aid budget. As we all battle against COVID-19 in every part of the world, now is a time to stand together, not turn our backs on the people who need us most.

The UK has made a legal commitment to spend the equivalent of 0.7% of its Gross National Income each year on aid around the world. Last December, the Conservative Party was re-elected with a manifesto promise to continue that 0.7% aid commitment.

That’s not 0.7% of the UK budget, but instead an amount equal to 0.7% of the whole UK economy. Because it’s a percentage-based commitment, if we’re doing well as a country we give a bit more and if, as now, our economy shrinks, the budget for aid is automatically cut by the same proportion. So when we’re struggling more here, the aid budget already gets cut. 

Based on this, with the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, the government has already cut almost £3 billion from the UK’s aid spending – that’s a massive one fifth of the budget, cut in one go, because our economy has got smaller, so our aid spending automatically gets cut too. These cuts were hard to make and behind each one lie projects which won’t now be delivered: girls who won’t get to go to school, women who won’t have access to contraception or trained care when they give birth, communities without clean water, children who won’t be immunised, people fleeing conflict and natural disasters who won’t be getting life-saving help. Overnight cuts on this scale were painful to make, and the impact will be high.

Based on our commitment to 0.7% and a difficult economic outlook, next year’s aid budget was already going to be smaller than last year’s. Now we are hearing that the Chancellor is proposing a further cut, taking our commitment down to 0.5%. 

At a time of global crisis, when the world’s poorest people are facing ever greater challenges, making a further cut will have immense, dangerous consequences. Closer to home, this proposal risks damaging our standing with international partners. As the UK gets ready to host global leaders for the G7 and climate change summit COP 26, do we really want to set ourselves up as the country which chose to take money away from the poorest people in the world? The ones to take money away from work to reduce the impact of the climate emergency and away from programmes which help people find work and opportunity as they rebuild their own lives after COVID-19? As we seek to position ourselves as Global Britain, what reputation on the world stage do we want to take with us?

The amount of money that would be cut is equivalent to much less than 1% of the UK’s COVID-19 bill. It won’t make a dent in our deficit but it will have a huge impact on some of the poorest people in the world, in the middle of a global pandemic. So let's stand together, and not turn our backs on those who need us most.

Frances Longley

Before joining CARE in July 2019 as Executive Director for Programmes and Policy, I was Chief Executive of Amref Health Africa UK. 

I have more than 20 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector focussing on leadership, strategy and communications. My career has always been driven by a commitment to social justice and particularly the rights of women and girls - and I know that drive runs right through every aspect of CARE's remarkable work.

I believe this is a time of change and opportunity, not only for CARE, but for the sector and in the lives of the women, girls and their communities CARE works with around the world. 

In my role, I oversee a portfolio of humanitarian and development programmes of over £150 million in 25 countries, as well as CARE’s policy teams on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Inclusive Governance and Emergency Shelter.

Since March 2018 I have Co-Chaired the UK NGO sector working group on Leadership and Culture for Safeguarding. Prior to my role at Amref Health Africa, I was Director of Communications and Brand and Head of International Programme Engagement for Unicef UK. I also worked in Afghanistan to develop the communications strategy for the Ministry of Public Health’s Public-Private Partnerships programme to extend the provision of secondary and tertiary healthcare.

From 2009-2012 I lived and worked in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), leading the evaluation of an experimental USAID-funded national HIV prevention programme and creating the communications strategy for the Ministry of Health for their new national Health Management Information System. I studied for an MSc in Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.