Prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak inside number 10
Prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak inside number 10 Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

UK aid budget under threat: reactions to rumoured cuts to 0.7%

The UK’s aid budget is facing billions in cuts, according to recent media reports.

Several articles in the last few days have suggested government ministers are considering plans to reduce the proportion of Britain’s gross national income spent on aid from 0.7% to 0.5%. The rumoured cuts would see billions of pounds being diverted away from the world’s most marginalised communities.

The government’s 2019 manifesto, released less than a year ago, reaffirmed their commitment to spending 0.7% on official development assistance (ODA).

However, according to reports, chancellor Rishi Sunak and other cabinet members are planning to cut the aid budget over the next two years to “entrench the aid budget cuts next year to reduce debts and ease other economic pressures.

The rumours were followed by Boris Johnson’s announcement to spend an extra £16.5billion on defence. As Simon Starling, Bond’s director of policy, advocacy and research, points out: “What today’s announcement shows is that when the government needs to find the money for certain areas, it can.”

Criticism from former PM and cross-party MPs

The reports were met by widespread condemnation, including within the government and amongst senior Conservative Party members, including former-prime minister David Cameron.

David Cameron is “categorically opposed” to government plans for a temporary cut in the foreign aid budget to help repair the nation’s finances

— The Times (@thetimes) November 18, 2020

I felt incredibly proud we maintained aid spending during the cuts after the financial crisis because it spoke to our values as a compassionate country. Nothing has changed – THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) November 17, 2020

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Penny pinching aid & ditching our 0.7% commitment damages our international standing, and is no substitute for a proper, long term #levellingup plan from Gvt for a fairer Britain after #COVID19

— Justine Greening (@JustineGreening) November 17, 2020

“By rowing back on their own manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, the government would reduce our ability to tackle global poverty and injustice and signal a retreat from Britain as a force for good in the world.” – @PreetKGillMP

— Labour Press (@labourpress) November 17, 2020

And former prime minister Gordon Brown, in response to the military aid budget, condemned the government for potentially breaking promises on aid to pay for defence.

Invest in foreign aid, the military or both?

Gordon Brown makes his thoughts pretty clear. RC#KayBurley

— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) November 19, 2020

Johnson and Raab evade the question

Secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs, Dominic Raab, who controls the ODA budget, is said to be against the move, though he is yet to come out publicly in opposition it.

Raab is in charge of the newly formed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which was announced back in June by prime minister Boris Johnson. At the time, Johnson guaranteed that the budget of 0.7% of GNI would remain untouched.

Boris Johnson guaranteeing that 0.7% would be kept during his announcement of the DFID/FCO merger back in June. #SaveAid #NeverMoreNeeded

— Bond (@bondngo) November 17, 2020

However, when shadow minister for international development, Anna McMorin, asked at Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions whether he would rule out slashing the aid budget, the prime minster evaded the question.

.@BorisJohnson refused to reconsider slashing aid spend for the world’s most vulnerable.

Now is not the time to retreat from the world stage.

This Govt is breaking its promise to the world poorest, cutting lifelines & undermining our nation’s values. #PMQs @UKLabour

— Anna McMorrin MP :flag-wales::flag-eu::mask::rainbow-flag: (@AnnaMcMorrin) November 18, 2020

Our response

Our CEO, Stephanie Draper, had this to say in response to the reports.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has cost more than a million lives and devastated countries’ economies, including in the UK. However, with 115 million people about to be pushed back into extreme poverty due to the global pandemic, now is not the time to make a U-turn on a critical Conservative manifesto promise to protect the UK’s 0.7% aid commitment. The government has already recouped nearly £3billion worth of ODA, which shows just how flexible the percentage target is and reminds us that when GNI falls, the amount of aid the UK gives also falls. The government breaking its promise will do nothing but hurt some of the world’s most marginalised communities.

“Dropping the aid commitment to any lower percentage would be a terrible signal for the UK’s global standing, at a time when the world’s eyes will be on the UK as hosts of the G7 summit and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in 2021.”

Bond is taking action to try ensure the that the government keeps its 0.7% aid commitment.

We have joined nearly 200 NGOs in a letter calling for Johnson to keep his commitment to the world’s most marginalised communities and not cut aid in the middle of the global pandemic.


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