Former prime ministers, cross-party MPs, and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai have joined experts in global development and charities in speaking out against a cut of billions of pounds to the UK’s overseas aid budget.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is in control of the Treasury department has announced that he is cutting the aid budget from 0.7% of the country’s Gross National Income (GNI), to 0.5%.
It’s a decision that breaks the Conservative Party manifesto pledge to maintain the commitment, and undermines a minimum target for aid spending that is enshrined in UK law.
Sunak announced the move in his speech to parliament during his Spending Review on Wednesday and suggested it would be a temporary measure. However BBC reported on Tuesday that the government is actually looking to pass new laws to take the target down to 0.5% — from the current 0.7% — causing some MPs to express concern that this could mean a permanent cut.
MPs speaking to the BBC, who are not named, suggested the proposed 0.2% cut would save the Treasury roughly £4 billion — but that would barely make a difference to the government’s COVID-19 deficit of approximately £350 billion. It potentially indicates that the decision is more of a permanent stance, rather than a short-term response.
The 0.7% commitment already allows room for fluctuations in the UK economy — meaning that as the economy has shrunk this year, £2.9 billion in funding has already been lost from aid projects globally.
Global Citizen last week joined almost 200 other development and humanitarian organisations in signing an open letter warning that such a large further cut would have a devastating impact on the world’s poorest people, and see the UK retreat from the world stage at a crucial moment.
The charities, including dozens that receive no aid funding at all themselves but see the life-saving impact it has, have said that now — amid a global pandemic — is not the time for the UK to turn its back on the world. Instead, the country should look to support a “collaborative, international response” in defeating COVID-19.
The letter pointed out the important role the UK’s aid projects play in strengthening global health systems – something that is vital in both defeating COVID-19, and lessening the chance of future pandemics.
But it’s not just those who work in the humanitarian sector who see the benefit UK aid has on the world, from keeping girls in school, to fighting preventable diseases that trap people in poverty, and many others have added their voice as well.
Here are just some of the response seen around the world — and you can take action now to call on the government to reverse this devastating decision, through sending a tweet to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and emailing your MP.
Malala, the campaigner, fierce advocate for girls education, and co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize has warned about the impact of UK aid cuts.
On Tuesday evening she tweeted that COVID-19 could force 20 million more girls out of school, and added a message to Johnson and Sunak: “The UK pledged 0.7% in aid last year… I hope you’ll deliver on that promise.”
COVID-19 could force 20 million more girls out of school.— Malala (@Malala) November 24, 2020
To keep girls learning, we need leaders to prioritise education. @BorisJohnson & @RishiSunak: the U.K. pledged 0.7% in aid last year. When you announce spending priorities tomorrow, I hope you'll deliver on that promise.
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Justin Welby, one of the UK’s most senior religious figures, warned on Sunday that dealing with the pandemic required a “global response” and also spoke to moral duty.
"Helping the world's poorest is one of the great moral and ethical achievements of our country,” Welby said. "In his teaching, Jesus Christ tells us we mustn't limit our concept of neighbour simply to those close by to us. We need to heed that message in the tough times, as well as the good.”
He added: "Keeping our aid commitment is a strong signal that the UK is a reliable partner for long-term economic, social, environmental, and educational advancement across the globe.”
David Cameron, former UK prime minister (2010 –2016)
David Cameron, the former Conservative prime minister, has had some strong words for those in government. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Cameron said: "Abandoning the 0.7% target for aid would be a moral, strategic, and political mistake.”
“Moral, because we should be keeping our promises to the world’s poorest,” he continued. “A strategic error, because we would be signalling retreat from one of the UK’s vital acts of global leadership. And a political mistake because the UK is about to chair the G7 and important climate change negotiations.”
He added: “I hope the PM will stick to his clear manifesto promise, maintain UK leadership, and save lives.”
Tony Blair, former UK prime minister (1997-2007)
Tony Blair, who has played a role on the world stage since leaving political office, establishing his think tank the Institute for Global Change and serving as a UN peace envoy, also said that global challenges can only be addressed through commitments such as UK aid. He said: "This has been a great British soft power achievement. It isn't about charity. It's enlightened self-interest. Neither the challenge of climate or coronavirus can be met without Africa.”
MPs from all seven major political parties
A letter addressed to Johnson and Sunak, signed by representatives from across the political spectrum including the Conservatives, Labour, the Scottish National Party, and the Liberal Democrats, has warned against aid cuts, the Guardian reported on Sunday.
“The coronavirus crisis does not stop at any national border. More than 115 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty,” the letter said.
It added that to cut aid now would be a “terrible signal” as the UK is about to host the G7 summit and the COP26 UN climate talks in 2021. “This government cannot credibly claim to be building a ‘global Britain’ by shrinking away from our development commitments,” the MPs said.
Separately, Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative MP who also chairs the Foreign Affairs select committee has also spoken out about it, arguing that aid is needed for diplomatic reasons.
Britain’s foreign policy is based on DATA—diplomacy, aid, trade, arms—and should be geared to a clear outcome, the prosperity and happiness of the British people. It’s that simple. But it’s anything but simple to achieve.https://t.co/ZfqAOsFqI8— Tom Tugendhat (@TomTugendhat) November 25, 2020
The Indian social reformer, advocate for universal education, and co-winner of 2014’s Nobel Peace Prize with Malala, Kailash Satyarthi, has also sent a letter to the UK government expressing deep concern about aid cuts.
He posted the letter to Twitter with a message saying: “To make a massive cut in #UKAID in the middle of the pandemic, when the poorest are already suffering so much, would be immoral and dangerous."
To make a massive cut in #UKAID in the middle of the pandemic, when the poorest are already suffering so much, would be immoral and dangerous. My letter to @BorisJohnson & @RishiSunak. pic.twitter.com/O7tCSjBmF6— Kailash Satyarthi (@k_satyarthi) November 24, 2020
Famed for setting up the 1985 Live Aid concert to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief, Bob Geldof has long been associated with fundraising and speaking up for the world’s poorest people.
He told the Sunday Times: “It is unconscionable after such a wide cross-party commitment to the planet's most marginalised people that this promise should be under threat now.”
He added: “What expertise does Mr Sunak bring to this, save a seemingly callous ignorance of what he is effectively asking the PM to do – pull the needle from the sick child's arm, grab the meagre crust off the plate, sack the teacher in the tin-shack school, and send these children back to the place of no hope.”
Take action to raise your voice in support of UK aid and the millions of people who will be impacted by these cuts, by tweeting Boris Johnson and emailing your MP, urging government to urgently reverse this decision.