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UK aid tents providing shelter for people who've lost their homes to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

Credit: WFP/Rein Skullerud/Department for International Development. Licence: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

UK aid cut to 0.5%: billions diverted from world’s most marginalised

25 November 2020

The UK government announced today its intention to abandon its legally-binding commitment to spend 0.7% GNI on aid in 2021. This will likely require changes to the 2015 International Development Act that enshrined the commitment into law.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a reduction to 0.5% of GNI in the UK’s spending review. Sunak said the government intends to "return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows". 

The drop to 0.5% will cut the aid budget by almost a third, meaning that billions of pounds will no longer go to supporting the world’s most marginalised people. This follows £2.9 billion in cuts already made in 2020. The reduced spending will have a devastating effect on millions of people already being pushed into poverty by the Covid-19 pandemic.

An estimated £4.2 billion will be cut from the aid budget in 2021, while an extra £16.5 billion will be spent on defence. The reduction amounts to more than the UK’s bilateral aid spending on health, education and humanitarian crises in 2018 and 2019.

The government’s announcement comes despite widespread opposition from nearly 200 NGOsformer prime ministers and MPs, and business groups. The cuts also go against the government’s manifesto pledge from November 2019, which reaffirmed its commitment to spending 0.7% on official development assistance (ODA). 

The UK turning its back on most marginalised

Bond CEO, Stephanie Draper, criticises the short-sighted decision:  

“This is a tragic blow for the world’s most marginalised people, and many questions remain as to when and how the decision will be made about when we will return to 0.7%. The amount we spend on aid has already declined this year and this significant additional cut will cost lives. We should be stepping up our support, not reducing it. We hope MPs from all parties will stop this from happening on our watch. 

“Our UK aid budget has been one of the few things that has united parliament because MPs have understood that helping others, as well as our own, is morally, economically and politically the right thing to do if we are to tackle climate change, global pandemics or humanitarian crises.

“2021 should have been the year that re-established the UK as a global player, committed to climate change, poverty eradication, tackling disease and conflict as we host COP26 and the G7. Instead, today's announced u-turn on a manifesto commitment sees the UK turning its back on the world's poorest despite knowing that no one is safe from this or future pandemics unless we are all safe.”

UK aid must primarily be spent on poverty alleviation and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. ODA should only be managed by the departments and funds with the expertise and experience to ensure aid supports the most marginalised, while meeting the highest transparency rating targets.

Bond is mobilising the international development sector to advocate for effective and transparent government spending. Read our recommendations on how UK aid can stay on track, despite cuts and concerns on transparency.