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.