The UK plans to slash foreign aid to humanitarian crises in some of the poorest countries in the world by more than half as part of a massive downsizing of its overseas development aid (ODA) budget, according to leaked documents obtained by openDemocracy on Friday.
The budget reductions come as the government seeks to rebound from the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. But overseas aid analysts argue that seeking to reallocate funds away from ODA is not only shortsighted and an abdication of responsibility, but also trivial in the overall context of the country’s budget.
In fact, the country’s ODA spending accounted for just 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) and will now sink to 0.5% of GNI. The UK has legally enshrined the 0.7% mark as a measure of international solidarity.
Critics of the projected cuts say that they will deepen crises that are already rapidly getting worse.
“Reports of aid cuts to countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Syria — among many others on the brink of humanitarian crises — are deeply concerning,” Sarah Champion MP, chair of the House of Commons International Development Committee, told openDemocracy.
“More of the most vulnerable people in the world will go hungry; health care systems already under strain from a global pandemic will struggle to operate; violence and conflict will no doubt escalate,” she said. ”The government must explain the rationale for any cuts and be held accountable for the decisions it will take.”
Lawmakers opposed to the cuts are calling on the government to bring the matter before a vote in parliament, where advocates for ODA would likely push back on the severity of the cuts.
The proposals come as the world continues to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic and they signal a retreat by the UK from the world stage at a time when hunger is rising, education systems are unraveling, and human rights are coming under attack.
Global Citizen is calling on countries to increase ODA spending through our Recovery Plan for the World campaign. Foreign aid plays a critical role in ending conflicts, expanding access to education, bringing people clean water and sanitation, improving women’s rights, and much more.
The leaked documents reveal extreme cuts to several countries and regions, outlined in the graphic created by openDemocracy below.
The cuts would reportedly include, among others, cutting aid to the Sahel region of Africa by 93%, to Libya by 63%, to Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo by 60%, and to South Sudan, where a civil war has sparked a looming famine, by 59% — down from £110 million to £45 million.
Without ongoing and increased foreign aid, advocates fear that many of the world’s worst crises will deteriorate, especially as resources get shifted to the pandemic.
“Instead of the food and shelter and schooling and safety they were promised by Britain they will sometime later in the year have the food snatched from their mouths, the blanket removed from the tired body, the teacher sent home, and the bandage unpeeled from the wound,” Bob Geldof, musician and organiser of the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert, told openDemocracy.
“This is the brave new shiny world of Global Britain? This pinched, mean, small, sly, weak, pathetic act of self-harm that they do,” he continued. “Britain has many times been through harder, tougher, poorer times than this but it never retracted the hand of mercy to the helpless. What is wrong with these people? They are shameful.”