The UK’s decision to cut the foreign aid budget is a symptom of a declining “global Britain”.
Currently, the UK spends 0.7% of its budget on foreign aid, which is in line with the recommended percentage proposed by the UN target established in the 1970s. The Conservative manifesto in 2019 pledged to maintain this amount of spending.
However, the government has since rescinded, cutting foreign aid to 0.5% after successfully receiving confirmation from Parliament, despite a small rebellion from some Tory MPs. Although a 0.2% reduction may seem minimal, it translates to £4 billion in cuts.
Criticism of this decision has been widespread. Former Prime Minister Theresa May, who voted against her party for the first time in over twenty years, warned that “fewer girls will be educated” and “more girls and boys will become slaves”. Other former Prime Ministers have also criticised the cuts. On an international level, the UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres described the cuts as a “death sentence”.
The reason for such striking criticism is due to the catastrophic consequences of the policy. The cuts will prove to be disastrous for many vulnerable people. In places of conflict, such as Yemen, there will be less humanitarian support for its citizens, such as fewer food and medicines.
While the UK reduces its aid to those suffering in Yemen, the government will continue to openly sell arms to Saudi Arabia. In other cases, there will be a reduction in vaccinations for children, less support for women facing violence and a widespread withdrawal of support for the less fortunate across the globe. The WHO has also warned that reductions in medical funding abroad will increase the likelihood of people suffering from tropical diseases. Overall, there is agreement between NGOs and across the political spectrum that the cuts will result in the needless loss of life.
Some may question why it is in the UK’s interest to maintain the 0.7% spending commitment when many other countries fall beneath this target. Asides from the moral and humanitarian arguments to maintaining the spending, there is also a political element.
While the Prime Minister boasts of a “global Britain”, in reality, Britain is increasingly leaving centre-stage by turning its back on the world. As noted by the Financial Times editorial board, the UK’s soft power (the ability to influence or persuade other countries) will be strained in the coming months as Britain becomes more of a global outlier. Other advanced economies are increasing their foreign aid, rather than reducing it. Germany currently commits to 0.72% of spending, while France and the USA have both committed to increasing their spending in the coming years.
With Britain’s recent history of abandoning international norms and laws, the cuts will only prove further that Britain is turning away from the international community.
Despite these criticisms, the government has argued that due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, it is necessary to save money. They have also stated that when the economic climate allows, the aid budget will be increased. Yet, the governments reasoning seems quite contradictory. If the country truly requires money-saving exercises, it is odd that the government has pursued a £16.5 billion spending increase for defence in the last year. Meanwhile, a new national yacht has been commissioned, costing around £200 million, according to Sky News. This brought criticism by former Prime Minister John Major who succinctly said that nobody “wants or needs” the yacht. These inherent policy contradictions between “saving money” and spending money reveals that the decision to cut the aid budget was on a political, not an economic, basis.
Other proponents of the cut have used the old argument of “charity starts at home”. Yet, the government does not care for the vulnerable in Britain either. Last year, the government callously refused to provide free school meals to the nations most vulnerable children during a pandemic.
In addition to this, the government is abandoning its £20 top up on universal credit, once again punishing the disadvantaged. The government did not even have the decency to commit to a pay rise above 1% for NHS staff.
So for those that assume the money saved by the cuts will be redirected to citizens of Britain, I highly doubt so. The government’s record proves that they do not care for the country’s disadvantaged. The cuts are a reflection of the government’s contempt for the most vulnerable, both at home and abroad.
In an era when Britain is supposed to be “global”, it is an immense disappointment that the government has cut the foreign aid budget. The recent decision will lead to an unnecessary loss of life and a decline in the standard of living for many, while further isolating Britain from the international community. The country is retreating from the world stage, turning away from its moral duties abroad, while simultaneously turning its back on the most disadvantaged at home.