A scene from the Palanca-Maiaki-Udobnoe border crossing point, between the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine on 1 March 2022. People flee the military offensive in Ukraine, seeking refuge in Moldova or transiting the country on their way to Romania and other EU countries.

Credit: UN Women/Aurel Obreja - Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ukraine, Afghanistan, climate change and Covid-19 highlight the need for an urgent return to 0.7

21 March 2022
Author: Simon Starling

The scenes we are witnessing in Ukraine following the Russian invasion are horrific, the scale of displacement is huge, and the geo-political and wider impacts of the conflict are unfathomable.

What has been inspiring, however, is the resilience of Ukrainian people, and the solidarity and generosity of the UK public in times of crisis, with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) raising over £100million in just four days. We are only now beginning to grasp the full extent of the crisis, which has already forced millions of refugees into neighbouring countries.

Along with the sanctions on Russia, it will have a huge global impact on food, fuel and energy supplies. Not only will this hit us in the pocket in the UK during a cost of living crisis, but it will have a devastating impact on already-fragile countries such as Yemen and Ethiopia, whose stability will be further eroded by the increased risk of famine.  

This all means the Chancellor has a lot to wrestle with ahead of his spring statement next week: the cost of living crisis at home, the urgent need to find resources to support Ukraine and house refugees and calls for more spending on defence. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and now the Ukraine crisis have reminded us how interconnected we all are. There is no question of the need for the UK to play its part and engage proactively with the rest of the world. Just as the impacts of conflict are global, so are the causes of instability. Preventing conflict is a long-term activity that must include investment across all three of the Ds in the government’s Integrated Review: diplomacy, development and defence.  

Conflict and poverty are intrinsically linked; by 2030 the World Bank predicts that up to two thirds of the world’s extreme poor will live in conflict-affected settings. Resource scarcity and economic insecurity increase risk of instability, while war exacerbates existing vulnerabilities and inequalities.

Investing in stability requires an approach that has the wellbeing and priorities of communities at its heart. Development and humanitarian assistance cannot be an add-on, it must be a central pillar in the UK’s work to champion a new world order that supports justice, equity and democracy. 

While the calls for an increase in defence spending will, understandably, have an added impetus now, this must not come at the expense of diplomacy and development – central to preventing the massive human and financial costs of war. Investing in development, stability and peacebuilding globally is not only the right thing to do for the UK, but it is also good value for money.

Preventing crises from escalating in the first place is much cheaper than dealing with a war. Military interventions in pursuit of peace are a costly last resort and come at a point when human suffering and death are unavoidable. 

The demands on our Official Development Assistance budget are ever increasing. The high number of ongoing humanitarian crises, conflicts and the Covid pandemic, demonstrate that cutting the humanitarian and development budget to 0.5% – from the manifesto commitment shared by all political parties of 0.7% - was short-sighted.

The reduction has cost lives and livelihoods, prompting former prime minister David Cameron to declare: “We achieved 0.7% of GDP in our aid payments. I’m sad we’ve got away from that. I hope we can get back there.” 

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss recently announced her intention to restore the amount going to humanitarian responses as well as women and girls. This is welcome and needed. However, if the UK continues to treat the 0.5% target as the most the UK is allowed to spend on humanitarian and development needs, it will have to find that money by making further cuts to existing programming, meaning ultimately it is those who have already been marginalised who will foot the bill.  

The UK government needs to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, but the scale of the Ukraine crisis on top of so many others means this must be financed from outside the current 0.5% aid budget.  It is unethical and unacceptable to take back funding and support from other people who need it. It is also economically sensible, as it will reduce the scale of need and risk of conflict which could lead to more financial support being needed down the track.   

No-one is safe until we are all safe, be it from pandemics, climate change or tyrants. A 0.7% development budget is a critical part of the UK’s role in the world.  We have seen incredible generosity from the UK public to Ukraine, Afghanistan and other crises around the world. This is who we want to be as a nation: generous and outward-looking, choosing to play our part in promoting a more just, peaceful and equitable world. 

About the author

Simon Starling

Simon is director of policy, advocacy and research at Bond.