Britain will spend £800m less on international aid than had been expected over the next three years – although the UK will still honour its pledge to the United Nations to raise spending on aid overall.
David Cameron has come under fire from Conservative right wingers for repeatedly stressing his determination to live up to his commitment for the Government to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid.
George Osborne told MPs that Britain would hit the target in 2013 and spoke of his pride in helping to deliver that promise. But he also stressed there would be no increase beyond the 0.7 per cent target in future years.
And the fine print of his Autumn Statement made clear that the projections for weak economic growth over the next three years meant that the rise in spending would be smaller in cash terms than previously expected.
Spending on aid will rise from £8.7bn in 2012-13 (0.56 per cent of national income) to £11.3bn in 2013-14 (0.7 per cent) and £11.8bn in 2014-15 (0.7 per cent).
But because the aid budgets are linked to the size of the economy, Britain will spend £162m, £254m and £388m less than originally anticipated in each of the three years – a total “saving” of £804m.
Emma Seery, Oxfam’s head of development finance, said: “George Osborne deserves credit for sticking to his promises to the world’s poorest people during these difficult economic times.”
But she said: “We are disappointed that lower growth means there will be less UK aid available to pay for the medicines, teachers and clean water that make such a difference to millions in poor countries.”
Mr Osborne told MPs: “We made a promise as a country that we would spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on international development and I am proud to be part of the first British government in history which will honour that commitment, and honour it as promised next year.”
He added: “We will not, however, spend more than 0.7 per cent. So as we did last year, we will adjust the Department for International Development budget to reflect the latest economic forecasts.”
Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, said: “It is in everyone’s interests for countries around the world to be stable and secure, to have educated and healthy populations and to have growing economies.”
In the Commons, the Conservative MP Peter Bone urged Mr Osborne to scrap the target, saying it was one way he “could produce a lot of money at no expense to the British economy”.
The Chancellor replied: “We have a genuine disagreement here. I think it is right this country helps the world’s poorest.”