Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has published a scathing article aimed at Rishi Sunak, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, arguing that the UK is paying its bills for COVID-19 "off the backs of the poor" by cutting UK aid spending.
Writing in the Guardian on Wednesday, Brown, who is currently the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, argues that the £5 billion cut to the overseas aid budget — also known as UK aid — due to come into effect in March, will inflict damage that “will take decades to undo.”
“What moral compass guides ministers towards severing lifelines of support in the midst of the most devastating peacetime humanitarian emergency in a century?” he writes in the Guardian. “Nothing shames our country more.”
Brown points out that, as the world emerges from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, poverty is increasing for the first time in two decades. “For 20 years until now, the UK aid budget has risen, and global poverty has fallen. Now, for the first time in two decades, global poverty is rising, but development aid, sadly, is falling.”
The former politician underlines the real-life consequences of drastic and rapidly implemented cuts. “More than 5 million young people will be denied the vaccinations for polio, measles, and others that they require,” Brown writes, referring to calculations made by the Center for Global Development.
He adds: “100,000 children’s lives that could have been saved will be lost, and 4.5 million fewer children a year will receive an education."
Bond, the UK network for organisations working in international development has also crunched the numbers to show how a cut of 30% will impact the world’s poorest.
Bond wrote in November that the cut would also mean 7.6 million fewer women and girls each year will be reached with modern methods of family planning, and 2 million fewer people a year will be reached with humanitarian assistance during times of crisis, in addition to lives lost through lower vaccination rates that Brown mentions.
“We are depriving the world’s most vulnerable of food, medical treatment, and schooling, as surely as pulling away the needle from a child awaiting vaccination, whipping away the school meal from her hungry mouth, and shutting the school gates on all those whose human right to education we promised to uphold,” Brown continues.
Nothing shames our country more than Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, paying the bills for Covid off the backs of the poor – at home and abroad. Never in our history has the overseas aid budget been cut so peremptorily, so savagely and by so much. https://t.co/MVAj12UOwa— Gordon & Sarah Brown (@OfficeGSBrown) February 3, 2021
He also argues the decision is “short-sighted” in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic as supporting programmes that strengthen health systems abroad will help end the crisis.
Brown was prime minister and leader of the Labour Party between 2007 and 2010, during the last global financial crisis, and was Chancellor of the Exchequer for 10 years before that. His criticism of current government policy comes two weeks after former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May penned a front-page article in the Daily Mail also decrying the aid cuts.
May said current Prime Minister Boris Johnson is abandoning Britain’s “global moral leadership” by making the cuts. It also reneges on a 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment.
Like May, Brown also argues that the decision reflects poorly on the UK’s standing in the world, especially in 2021 — a year when Johnson is hosting the G7 summit (an annual conference between the governments of the US, UK, Japan, France, Canada, Germany, and Italy), and the UN’s annual international climate summit, COP26.
He points out that the decision to cut aid from 0.7% of Britain’s gross national income (GNI) to 0.5% puts the UK behind other high- and middle- income countries, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, in terms of its commitment to the most vulnerable. At the same time, the government is trying to brand the country as “Global Britain” post-Brexit.
“Global Britain is being launched by telling 27 of the poorest countries in Asia and Africa that, at a stroke, their bilateral aid is being almost halved,” the article goes on.
Brown concludes that to support the poorest countries in the world and halt rising poverty in Africa a new plan of investment should take place via the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and a more generous debt-relief structure should be granted.
He refers to the plan as a “Marshall-style” plan for Africa, referring to an aid programme the US implemented to kickstart the recovery of Western Europe after the Second World War. He said $1.2 trillion (£0.9 trillion) of new international money should be made available from which the poorest countries in Africa can draw from to invest in poverty reduction.
He argues this will also help progress on the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty by 2030, which are now at risk of faltering following years of achievement.
“Standing side by side in campaigns such as Make Poverty History, the NGOs and the UK government would together lead the world, and the combination of our grassroots and intergovernmental pressure would persuade other countries to follow,” Brown says. But the UK government is “reneging on its financial commitments” to deliver those goals at this moment.
“For 20 years until now, the UK aid budget has risen, and global poverty has fallen. Now, for the first time in two decades, global poverty is rising but, sadly, development aid is falling.”https://t.co/nYIqFr9pnQ— Richard Darlington (@RDarlo) February 3, 2021