Whilst the announcement that the Government was rolling back on its legal commitment to spend 0.7% of our Gross National Income (GNI) on International Aid was expected, it is still incredibly disappointing that the Conservatives are content to break a manifesto – and more importantly and moral – promise to the people of the UK and the developing world.
With a shrinking economy, the Foreign Secretary had already withdrawn funding from almost £3b worth of projects to concentrate on the ’40 most vulnerable countries’ in July following the decision to scrap the Department for International Development (DFiD) earlier in the year.
This responsibility was enshrined in 2014 having been brought forward by Lib Dem MP Michael Moore and was supported overwhelmingly by MPs across the House of Commons but it has been an expectation as part of the UKs membership of the United Nations since 1970 and with issues like Covid-19 and Climate Change afflicting the whole globe, to renege on our responsibilities now is incredibly short sighted.
Although some people have criticised some of the projects that have been funded through international aid, this does not undermine the principle of the funding. An investigation was started by the Foreign Office earlier this year which could lead to additional safeguards being brought forward to ensure that aid reaches those most in need.Cutting the funding because there is some corruption is like suggesting we shouldn’t have a speed limit because some people break the law or because we don’t have the ability to enforce it, its just the right thing to do.
As well as it being our moral duty to support the poor, there is an economic imperative too. People leave poor countries because they cannot keep their children healthy, they want a decent education or their homes are swept away by natural or human disasters. They flee in flimsy rubber dinghies, or stow away in lorries, they pay criminals to give them or their children another chance at life and they make it to western countries where they are locked up and denied the chance to work.
It makes sense to ensure that every baby is inoculated, every child has clean water, every girl is educated and protected from sexual violence and every family can earn sufficient to support their family. There is an age-old saying about teaching people to fish and International Aid has changed over the years so that it is an enabler and not a handout. Reducing our commitment by one third, saving just £4 billion (a mere 1% of this year's projected deficit) is short-sighted and could hamper the progress that has been made in recent years and utterly inconsequential to this nation's finances.
Former Conservative International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told MPs that the proposed cut in the foreign aid budget "will be the cause of 100,000 preventable deaths mainly among children".
I understand the call that ‘charity begins at home’ but this money won’t be spent on the poorest here - £2 billion has just been committed to build a tunnel underneath Stonehenge, and HS2 is now predicted to cost over £100 billion. This reduction will need a change in the law and while YouGov might suggest the public support it, there needs to be more honesty about the impact of this cut and what domestic projects would be funded instead. I hope that the Members of Parliament look at why this was enshrined in the first place and recognise that leadership is about making the right decisions even if they might not be immediately popular.