Cutting foreign aid

Cutting foreign aid

There was always an element of moral posturing in David Cameron’s insistence that foreign aid spending should be ring-fenced at 0.7% of national income, said Douglas Murray in The Daily Telegraph. He did it to show he was a different sort of Tory – the kind that hugs huskies, not the awful type “that kept winning elections in the 1980s”. But really, what prime minister “has the right to decide what a future government should spend? Who can foresee what eventualities – such as a global pandemic – might emerge to change the fiscal situation of the nation?” And why only ring-fence certain departments? “Is education or policing any less important than foreign aid?” The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, faced heavy criticism for cutting the international development budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP last week. But this moderate reduction will save the UK £4bn-5bn per year, at time when our finances are in a “dire” state; Sunak said the cut would be “temporary”. With a Covid bill of at least £210bn, the country needs that money.

Actually, we can cope without it, said Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer: £4bn-5bn is a “relatively trivial” sum for a wealthy nation with a deficit of some £400bn. But on top of the £3bn cut already factored in because the economy has shrunk, this “will have heavy consequences in some of the most impoverished parts of the planet”. The former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell estimates that nearly a million girls will be deprived of an education as a result. More than seven million will lose access to contraception. Nearly four million people will be deprived of clean water and 5.6 million fewer children will get vaccinations, leading to 100,000 avoidable deaths. This was a “cynical” and repugnant decision – a reversion to “Tory type” made to curry favour with rightwing newspapers. This is why all five living former prime ministers, three of them Conservatives, condemned the move. So did the Archbishop of Canterbury. “A promise to the poor is particularly sacred,” he said – it should not be broken. It’s bad news for “global Britain”, too, said Mihir Sharma on Bloomberg. Aid is not “wasted money”. It is, in fact, “a vital source of international reach and power”. Development is perhaps the only area in which Britain today is a genuine “superpower”.

Britain will still be a world leader in aid, said Madeline Grant in The Daily Telegraph – even at 0.5% it’s the second most generous nation in the G7. And maybe not having so much cash to throw around will lead to better decisions. In 2019-20, UK taxpayers have paid some £81m to China to fund rice production, wind farms and flood defences. Is that sensible? Personally, I think the cut is a very bad idea, said Peter Franklin on UnHerd. But it was “a political no-brainer”. One recent poll showed 57% of voters in favour of it and just 15% against. Britain’s development experts do a great job in many ways, but “they neglected a vital constituency – the British people”. Instead of coming across as remote and “preachy”, as they too often do, they need to make the “patriotic” case for aid. 

Comments