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Foreign aid cuts: UK charities accuse government of delivering ‘tragic blow’ to world’s poorest

Written by on 22 April 2021

Two hundred of the UK’s charities and aid organisations have accused the government of delivering a “tragic blow” to the world’s most marginalised people following confirmation of foreign aid cuts.

In a joint statement, groups including Save the Children, Oxfam, ONE, Christian Aid, Care International and The HALO Trust have criticised the government’s action in slashing Official Development Assistance (ODA).

It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab set out the allocations for UK ODA spending for 2021-22 to MPs, with the government acting on its decision to cut the UK’s annual foreign aid commitment from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income.

File photo dated 13/8/2014 of cargo from UK Aid waiting to be loaded on to an Antonov An-12B aircraft at East Midlands Airport. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that he has merged the Department for International Development (Dfid) with the Foreign Office, creating a new department, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office. Image: The government was accused of a lack of transparency over where the axe would actually fall on aid spending

In their statement, the 200 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said: “Today’s announcement is a tragic blow for many of the world’s most marginalised people the UK once supported, and for the UK’s reputation as a trusted development partner.

“The government has not even spared countries ravaged by humanitarian crisis, disease, war and poverty.

“When other nations are stepping forward and bolstering their aid budgets, the UK has instead chosen to step back.

“In a year when the UK has the chance to show leadership at G7 and COP26, withdrawing vital investment needed to keep everyone safe from health pandemics, conflicts and climate change, is the wrong move.”

Meanwhile, Mr Raab has been warned he faces a grilling by a group of MPs on Thursday about where the axe will actually fall on foreign aid spending.

Labour MP Sarah Champion, the chair of the House of Commons’ International Development Committee, was scathing of Mr Raab’s written statement to parliament.

“To sneak out a written statement at the end of the day, shows a lack of respect for both parliament scrutinising these cuts and the aid organisations that are hearing about the spend for the first time only now,” she said.

“To say the statement is scant on detail is an understatement.

“Whilst we now have limited understanding on the areas the government is prioritising for its shrinking aid pot, we are still awaiting guidance on country-by-country allocations.

“People’s lives are directly impacted by these decisions and it is shocking that they still don’t have clarity they need.”

She added her committee would be “demanding answers on the aid cuts” when Mr Raab appears before them on Thursday morning.

Laurie Lee, chief executive of Care International, also attacked the lack of detail in Mr Raab’s statement.

“This statement says nothing about what has been cut or why – we need full transparency,” he said.

“Parliament should be allowed to vote on the budget and the 0.7% promise should be kept.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak during a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London, following the 2021 Budget in the House of Commons. Picture date: Wednesday March 3, 2021. Image: Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the cut from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI last year

In his written statement, Mr Raab said his department was responsible for delivering £8bn of Official Development Assistance (ODA) – approximately 80% of the UK’s total foreign aid spending.

He added around half of the ODA administered by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Office (FCDO) would be spent in Africa, with one-third to be spent in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region.

Mr Raab’s statement gave allocations for each area of aid spending – with £1.3bn allocated to “COVID and global health” – but offered little detail on country-specific allocations.

The only country-specific example included was Mr Raab’s announcement that he had reduced the FCDO’s foreign aid spending in China by 95% to £0.9m, with additional ODA in this year only to meet the contractual exit costs of former programmes.

Ms Champion said it was “very surprising that China is still receiving money”.

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At last year’s spending review Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the government would cut foreign aid spending from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5% and breach an election manifesto promise.

Mr Sunak said sticking to the 0.7% target – which had been written into law by former prime minister David Cameron – would be “difficult to justify to the British people” amid the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Danielle Boxall, media campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance said that cutting foreign aid to China was “long overdue”.

“Previous projects, like helping the Chinese produce rice, saw wanton waste of taxpayers’ cash,” she added.

“This should be a stepping stone to a proper and permanent cut in the ostentatious overseas aid budget.”

In his statement, Mr Raab said the UK would “return to our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on ODA when the fiscal situation allows”.

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