Boris Johnson's move to cut over £3.5bn of foreign aid "undermined" efforts to limit the long-term damage of coronavirus damage abroad, an official watchdog has concluded.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) said on Thursday programmes that would have mitigated the pandemic’s impact had been ended because of the cut.
The watchdog’s report led to fresh criticism of the Prime Minister’s move to reduce aid spending for the world’s poorest from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI).
ICAI commissioner Sir Hugh Bayley also urged the government to “accelerate” the supply of Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries, with the vast majority having gone to rich nations.
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The ICAI review said: “The UK’s strong initial response to the pandemic, seeking to reduce the severity and length of the crisis, mitigate its long-term damage and deliver cost-effective long-term development efforts has been undermined following the decision to reduce the aid spending target to 0.5% of GNI.
“We have seen evidence of programmes that would have mitigated the long-term damage of the crisis being reduced and good long-term investments being ended.
“We found evidence in some cases that this had increased the burden on partner countries and other funders, potentially placing vulnerable groups at increased risk.”
“Some funders had stepped in” but the “speed of decision making did not allow other funders to be enlisted in a considered and structured way”, the report added.
“Looking forward, the reduced aid budget and reduced autonomy for the overseas network within the new FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) appears likely to reduce the ability of the UK aid programme to respond flexibly to the evolving pandemic.”
Liberal Democrat international development spokeswoman Layla Moran said the cut is “shameful”.
“In our fight against Covid-19 we are not safe until we are all safe,” she said.
“Yet by cutting the international development budget, the Conservatives have not only abandoned millions around the world but has effectively tied one hand behind our back.
“It is shameful that, when the most vulnerable countries of the world needed support, Conservative MPs reneged on their manifesto promises and walked away.
“This report is proof of the disastrous impact the government’s decision will have on our global battle against Covid-19.”
An FCDO spokeswoman responded: “The UK continues to lead the global response to the pandemic. We have contributed £1.7 billion to support the effort to fight coronavirus worldwide.
“Our funding is helping to provide more than a billion vaccines to lower and middle income countries, as well providing coronavirus treatments and tests. No-one is safe until we are all safe.”