What does the overseas aid budget cut mean for our global neighbours?
MPs have voted that the overseas aid budget will be cut from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income as a result of the UK’s need to recover from the pandemic. But is the cut fair and who does it affect?
What is the overseas aid budget?
The concept of foreign aid is not new. Since the 18th century, nations have supported other nations who are strategically important to them, providing military support or economic support with the aim of ensuring a good economic or political return for themselves. In 1970, the UN set a commitment target for richer nations to give 0.7% of their gross national income to poorer countries. The UK failed to meet that target until, in 2015, David Cameron’s Conservative Government wrote the commitment into law. The law has cross-party consensus and is applicable for 25 years. The financial support, which fluctuates according to national income, ensures that vulnerable communities have access to education, healthcare, sanitation and food.
Why is it contentious?
Less than a decade after it was achieved, the UK Government has voted to cut the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5%. The UK is the only country in the G7 who has proposed such a reduction. The UK Government has voted by a small minority that the remaining 0.2% will be put towards recovery from the impact of the global pandemic. However, while many believe that charity begins at home (though some say it doesn’t end there), even a temporary cut to the aid budget cannot come into effect unless the law is changed.
What does it mean for real people?
The decision to reduce the aid budget by an estimated £4 billion was taken without assessment on the impact to the projects which the budget funds.
Christian Aid’s UK Advocacy and Policy Lead, Jennifer Larbie is clear that the cuts have consequences for the world’s poorest.
“This is not just about the compassion of our country. It is about justice. It will result in people not accessing vital health care during a global pandemic and in people going hungry. Fewer children will be educated and their limited choices will be further diminished.”
In Bangladesh, despite the importance of good hand hygiene during coronavirus, sanitation funding will be cut. In Yemen and Syria, no humanitarian assistance will be available. In South Sudan, Christian Aid’s church-led peacebuilding programme has been terminated. With the proposed reduction, without forewarning or due diligence, the Government is rescinding on their manifesto promise and their legal responsibility to women, men and children.
What is Christian Aid doing
As an organisation rooted in faith and in the belief that poverty is not what God wants for this world, Christian Aid is speaking out against these proposed cuts. We can see the impact of the funding on communities across the world and fear for the consequences. But we also see the witness Christian Aid supporters have in their local communities when they stand up for their global neighbours.
The people of this country have a proud tradition of never turning a blind eye to those in need around the world. People give money, sign petitions or bake cakes because they believe helping those in need is a fundamental part of their faith.
Thanks to Christian Aid churches, we continue to support the most vulnerable communities in the face of emergency, conflict or climate disaster. We are working with those most susceptible to coronavirus, ensuring people have access to reliable health information and sanitation facilities. We are calling for a global vaccine in the knowledge that we will not be free of the virus until everyone is protected.
Love your neighbours
If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we are all connected. We are neighbours across the street and around the world. The repurposing of 0.2% of national income for domestic use translates to an extra 2p in every £10. Without doubting the importance of 2p to some, it arguably won’t go very far in the UK. But small sums of money work very hard in communities in the global south. It can mean the difference between life and death, education and poverty, harvest and famine.
To quote Jennifer Larbie again, "These are challenging and difficult times. But the government has a clear choice: honour its commitment to the world’s poorest, or not. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, a promise to the poor is particularly sacred."
Head of Christian Aid Scotland, Sally Foster-Fulton, said: “There was an opportunity today to reverse a shocking decision by the UK government. I’m bitterly disappointed the vote hasn’t changed anything. This decision will pile yet more pressure onto the millions of people worldwide who have been pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the global pandemic.
These are tough times and governments have tough decisions to make but balancing the books on the backs of the poor isn’t the way to do it. Since the pandemic started many of us have come to realise just how interconnected our lives are with others across the world, our global neighbours. With coronavirus, conflict and climate change pushing 41 million people in over 40 countries towards famine, this is not the time to reduce the aid budget, even temporarily.”