Catholic and other agencies have condemned chancellor Rishi Sunak's decision to cut spending on overseas aid in today's spending review.
The UK had ring-fenced 0.7 per cent of national income for overseas aid in 2015, but the cost of financing the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic means Mr Sunak feels he has no choice but to cut this to just 0.5 per cent, saving more than £4 billion.
Mr Sunak pledged the 0.7 per cent spend will return after the present fiscal challenges have been met, but the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was among those who condemned the cut as “shameful”. Former prime minister David Cameron also criticised the move as “sad”. Development minister Baroness Sugg, who is close to Cameron, resigned, describing the cut as “fundamentally wrong”.
Tony Blair also warned that cutting the aid budget was a moral, strategic and political mistake.
Christine Allen, director of Cafod, said: “At a time when international solidarity and cooperation across borders is needed more than ever, it is deeply alarming that the Government has chosen to turn its back on the world.
“Aid spending on tackling global poverty must not be treated as a charitable favour to the world, but as Britain’s moral duty.
“Britain became one of the world’s wealthiest nations due to its long history of colonisation and fossil-fuelled industrialisation.
“We recognise the economic challenges we face at home, but when the government have increased spending on defence, there can be no argument to reduce spending on the means to tackle conflict and its causes. Yet despite our wealth, this government has decided to take money from the world’s poorest.”
Peter Waddup, director of the Leprosy Mission, who was one of 187 charity chief executives to sign an open letter to Boris Johnson opposing the cut, said the cut had broken the Conservative manifesto promise to protect the 0.7 per cent aid commitment.
Agencies are also angry that Mr Johnson has at the same time announced a four-year £16.5 billion boost to the defence budget.
Mr Waddup said: “We have had the privilege of putting UK aid money to work in Africa and Asia. We have seen the life-changing difference it makes to the world’s most marginalised people and their communities.
“Not only is it helping to end global transmission of diseases like leprosy that should not exist today, but it has lifted millions from extreme poverty.
“At a time when millions of people across the globe are now struggling to survive because the global pandemic, UK Aid is a never more needed lifeline.
“As the World Health Organisation has repeatedly said, no country is able to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and its impact alone.
“Withdrawing the UK's level of support at a time like this is not only shortsighted but completely unjust.”
The aid budget has already seen a £2.9 billion reduction this year as a result of economic shrinkage because of the pandemic.
Mr Waddup said: “Since the aid budget is calculated as a percentage of the total amount of Gross National Income, the 0.7 per cent overseas aid commitment is already a flexible budget that falls when the economy shrinks. "
“We are deeply concerned the reassurances given by Boris Johnson to not rip apart UK’s commitment to the 0.7 per cent aid target after the merger of Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development have fallen through.”
Christian Aid’s director of policy, public affairs and campaigns, Patrick Watt, said: “Cuts have consequences and this decision will pile yet more pressure onto the millions of people worldwide who’ve been pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the global pandemic.
“Cutting the aid budget during a global pandemic is like closing fire stations during a heatwave.
“These are tough times and the Government has tough decisions to make, but balancing the books on the backs of the poor isn’t the way to do it.”