Foreign aid cuts ‘cast shadow’ over G7 summit, Boris Johnson warned

Families going hungry and girls missing school amid cuts, charities say

Emily Goddard
Sunday 06 June 2021 19:23
Boris Johnson facing prospect of Commons defeat over multi-billion pound overseas aid cut

UK foreign aid cuts cast a shadow over the nation’s role at the G7 and risk undermining its credibility on the world stage, hundreds of charities, academics and business leaders have warned.

Families are going hungry, girls are missing school, women’s rights are being sidelined and diseases are being allowed to spread because of the almost £4bn a year cuts, a letter to Boris Johnson with 1,700 signatures said.

The letter, with signatories including Oxfam GB and Save the Children, said the aid cuts are “a double blow” to the world’s poorest communities in the midst of a pandemic at a time of unprecedented human need.

“Week after week, media coverage exposes the devastation caused by the cuts, with nutrition centres and health clinics forced to close, water and sanitation projects cancelled, 78,000 healthcare professionals left untrained and over 700 million donated treatments to treat neglected tropical disease risk going to waste,” it said.

The prime minister has been criticised by MPs on all sides for temporarily reducing foreign aid from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent, and thereby shelving his 2019 manifesto commitment to maintain spending at a higher rate.

The letter to Mr Johnson said there was “no justifiable economic need” for the cuts and the UK was the only nation to have “rowed back on its commitments” while other G7 countries stepped up aid budgets.

“Inevitably the UK’s decision to cut its aid commitment during a pandemic casts a shadow over its ability to deliver at this year’s critical G7 summit,” it said.

“A G7 that shows the UK’s support for other countries will be critical to a successful Cop (the UN climate change conference scheduled to be held in Glasgow in November).

“Without a reversal to this decision, the UK’s credibility and voice on the international stage will be undermined, and its calls to other G7 leaders to do more on critical issues such as vaccine delivery, civic space, education, gender equality, healthcare, climate change and famine prevention risk ringing hollow.”

More than 30 rebel Tory MPs, including former prime minister Theresa May, have supported an amendment that would require new legislation to make up the shortfall left by the cut to the UK’s official development assistance.

The letter comes ahead of a potential Commons vote on the amendment on Monday.

Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said there was cautious optimism among Conservative rebels.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, but the reality is that what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to make sure that Britain’s foreign footprint, that global Britain, really means something,” he told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme.

Ahead of the vote, the United Nations’ under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Sir Mark Lowcock also criticised the cuts, describing them as “a failure of kindness and empathy” and “a breach of a promise”.

“I’m afraid there’s no question that that costs lives. If you slash aid to starving Yemeni children, you know, they die. Likewise, in Syria,” said Sir Mark, a former head of the Department for International Development, which Mr Johnson’s government dissolved in September.

The government has blamed economic damage caused by the pandemic for its decision to cut aid spending.

“Every other G7 country in the world has all of these economic problems because of the pandemic,” Sir Mark said. “And nobody else is slashing their aid budget.”

In 2020, the UK spent £14.5bn on overseas aid – a decrease of £712m on 2019 but still meeting its 0.7 per cent of gross national income target, according to provisional data.

The government expects just under £10bn to be allocated to departments for aid spending in 2021/22.

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