The target for aid spending will be reduced to 0.5% of the country’s gross national income (GNI), down from 0.7% — a target set out in British law in 2015.
Many Conservative MPs, as well as politicians across the political spectrum, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, activists, and the co-winners of 2014’s Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, added their voice to criticism of the decision.
Meanwhile, Baroness Liz Sugg, the minister for overseas territories and sustainable development, resigned from her role in response to the announcement.
If the plan goes ahead it will break a Conservative party manifesto pledge to maintain the 0.7% commitment and it undermines the minimum target for aid spending that is enshrined in UK law.
Regarding the 0.7% legislation, Sunak has said, speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, that the government does not need new laws to make the cut if it is temporary under certain circumstances.
However, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that new legislation will be needed due to uncertainty about how long the cut down to 0.5% will be for — suggesting it may not be a temporary cut. He added that legislation will be brought forward “in due course".
However it is decided, there is no doubt that the cuts will have a devastating impact on the world’s poorest people, who are also already feeling the strain of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The World Bank has already predicted COVID-19 will potentially push 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, and this decision to cut UK aid funding risks exacerbating that situation.
Bond, the UK network for organisations working in international development, has crunched the numbers to show exactly how a cut of 30% (£3.3 to 4.4 billion) from the overseas aid budget would impact people in the poorest countries in the world.
The figures are based on independent analysis of the Department for International Development’s (now called the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office after merging with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in September) annual report published in July, assessing aid spending from 2019 to 2020.
Here's how people would feel the impact:
1 million fewer children each year will be supported to gain a decent education.
An example of how UK aid supports education is by working to ensure every child can access education, and that education continues in the wake of disasters — such when over half a million children were supported back into school in southern Africa after Cyclone Idai hit in 2019.
7.6 million fewer women and girls each year will be reached with modern methods of family planning.
A plan to reach 20 million women and girls with contraception, maternal health care, and safe family planning services via UK aid was announced in 2019, and was set to save 9,000 lives a year from complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
2 million fewer people a year will be reached with humanitarian assistance during times of crisis.
An example of this assistance is the funding that goes to Yemen, a country which is suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, where 80% of the population relies on aid funding for food and vaccinations.
5.6 million fewer children each year immunised against disease.
Among many other examples of UK aid saving lives through distributing vaccinations, last year the funding contributed to a global push to get over 400 million children vaccinated against polio. Since then, Africa has been officially declared wild polio-free, in a massive achievement against the deadly and debilitating disease.
105,000 lives a year not saved
Finally, some 105,000 people’s lives won’t be saved by the support of UK aid.
“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 when we will return to 0.7%,” Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, said.
“The amount we spend on aid has already declined this year and this significant additional cut will cost lives,” she added.