Cuts to the Government’s foreign aid budget represent a “tragic blow” for many of the world’s most at-risk communities, 200 UK charities have said.
Economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has led the Government to shelve its manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Wednesday revealing the amount had been reduced to 0.5%.
“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 leaders of 200 charities including Save the Children, Oxfam, ONE, Christian Aid and Care International wrote in a statement.
“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.”
Mr Raab was earlier accused of “sneaking out draconian cuts” to the foreign aid budget, with Conservative former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell criticising his colleague for having “slipped out” details of reduced spending in a statement late on Wednesday.
Mr Raab set out how £8.11 billion of the aid budget would be allocated by the Foreign Office – approximately 80% of the total UK spend – including £906 million for humanitarian preparedness and response.
Work involving that money will focus on countries most affected by risk of famine, including Yemen, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan.
The Government expects just less than £10 billion to be allocated to departments for aid spending in 2021/22.
After Mr Raab’s statement, Tory backbencher Mr Mitchell said: “These words hide the most draconian cuts ever made by Britain and they affect many countries where Britain has a deep and abiding relationship.
“There is little detail but we know that the cuts are close to 50%. This is a statement that should have been made to MPs in the House of Commons, rather than slipped out at the end of the day in a written communication.”
The letter signed by the charity leaders said Britain had the chance in 2021 to show leadership as host of the G7 and the UN climate change conference summits, but “withdrawing vital investment needed to keep everyone safe from health pandemics, conflicts and climate change, is the wrong move”.
Save the Children chief executive Kevin Watkins added: “These cuts will trim UK borrowing by a fraction, but devastate lives across many of the world’s poorest countries.
“At a time when the UK should be leading the international community in responding to the climate crisis ahead of the climate summit, it is slashing aid to communities on the front line of that crisis.
“The UK’s hard-won reputation for international leadership in aid is in tatters.”