Charity leaders have rounded on the government after it broke a manifesto commitment by announcing billions of pounds in cuts to international aid.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed what many in the aid sector had feared, that the UK’s overseas aid budget will be cut next year from 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent, slicing more than £4bn off the annual spend.
One aid network had already warned that the £2.9bn aid budget cut announced earlier in the year would force dozens of aid charities to close.
Within hours of the announcement, the Conservative party peer Baroness Sugg, a minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, resigned from the government.
In a letter shared on Twitter she said she believed that it was fundamentally wrong for the government to abandon its commitment to aid spending.
Many in the sector agreed.
Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children UK, said the government had chosen to balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest people.
“The Prime Minister and Chancellor have broken a manifesto commitment, broken a promise to the world’s poorest people and broken Britain’s reputation for leadership on the world stage,” he said.
Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: “Today’s decision is a false economy which diverts money for clean water and medicines to pay for bombs and bullets.”
The government recently announced an increase in military spending of more than £16bn over the next four years.
Sriskandarajah added: “Breaking our aid promise risks significantly undermining one of the UK’s genuine claims to global leadership at a time when it will need all the moral authority it can muster.”
Earlier this month, more than 200 charity leaders warned the Prime Minister that a reduction in aid spend would represent a significant threat to development, and could seriously jeopardise the UK’s long-term global Covid-19 response.
The Labour MP Sarah Champion, who is chair of the House of Commons International Development Committee, said: “The government needs to quickly clarify the impact of this news on existing projects.”
Patrick Watt, director of policy, public affairs and campaigns at Christian Aid, said cutting the aid budget during a global pandemic was like closing fire stations during a heatwave.
Stephanie Draper, chief executive of international development network Bond, said it was tragic blow for the world’s most marginalised people and would cost lives at a time when the UK should be re-establishing itself as a global player.
Other charities critical of the government’s announcement included the Mines Advisory Group, WaterAid and the Charities Aid Foundation.
The government’s decision to merge the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office in June was described by aid charities as an “act of political vandalism” that “puts politics above the needs of the poorest people”.