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Why this is the worst time for Britain to halve its foreign aid

Despite warnings from the UN that one fifth of the global population could be forced into poverty, destitution, and hunger by multiple ongoing crises, the UK is cutting its global aid budget. Again.

You may be tired of hearing about the terrible things the British government has been up to lately, but unfortunately, it just won’t stop.

MPs and charity campaigners have called this ‘the worst moment in history’ for the UK to reduce its foreign aid budget. The Economist, along with many other major news outlets, has warned of ‘the coming food catastrophe’ – yet it has gone ahead anyway.

Controversial cuts to British foreign aid were first announced in 2020, well before the invasion of Ukraine began, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak stating they would last into 2024 or beyond. The budget for direct international aid has been steadily falling each year, from £1.53bn in 2020 to £744m in 2021.

Now, aid funding will be limited to just 0.5 percent of Britain’s gross national income – a figure determined by the state of the national economy – which you may have noticed hasn’t been doing so well lately.

The UK is the only G7 nation to implement cuts at this critical time, and Labour MPs fear the consequences will have a damaging effect on Britain’s international standing, and more importantly, human lives.

How does international aid work in the UK?

The UK operates on bilateral aid program, giving about 40 percent of its humanitarian funds to the UN, which then allocates spending to programmes overseas. The rest of the budget is put towards direct, developmental aid decided upon by government bodies.

Pending changes to the foreign aid strategy will cut money given to the UN – down to about 25 percent – with Britain prioritising its direct funding, based on national income as mentioned before.

Charities are worried that this new strategy is primarily motivated by improving British trade relations, rather than by working to end extreme poverty. And based on statements from officials, these suspicions could be correct.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss explained the new budget, framing developmental aid as a key avenue to achieve the UK’s current foreign policy objectives. It was also noted that this strategy would serve to benefit Britain by creating jobs on home soil.

The chair of the Commons international development committee, Sarah Champion, said that the government’s attempt to ‘link the provision of aid to access for UK goods and services’ and using money on ‘government-to-government spending’ rather than allocating it to multilateral organisations like the UN is a ‘double whammy against the global poor

How will these changes affect the global community?

The food trade industry has already been placed under months of pressure by supply chain issues caused by the pandemic, as well as by lesser crops yields caused by climate change.

Continued droughts in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are further affecting the food situation in Africa, with Oxfam reporting more than 28 million people risk facing extreme hunger.

The situation has been exacerbated by sanctions on Russia, which supplies one third of the world’s wheat and barley. With usual shipping ports now shut down, officials in the West fear that Putin is using the Ukraine war to ‘weaponize’ global food supplies.

In Yemen, which has seen almost a decade of war, 24 million people will need help obtaining food and other essentials. Since 2020, British aid to this region has already dropped by 63 percent.

On top of making it harder to secure food for areas where nutrition is scarce, international social services will see their resources dwindle further, with marginalised groups being the hardest hit.

The government was a heavily criticised by NGOs after a leaked report showed that the revised aid budget would disproportionately affect women and girls.

The report, published on International Women’s Day, revealed that girl’s education, services for women and girls who’d experienced sexual violence, and programs working to improve gender equality would lose funding.

Last year, budget cuts saw 7.1 million children lose access to education, of which half were young girls. At least 5.3 million also lost access to family planning methods, such as birth control.

Previously, Britain has had the second highest contribution to international aid of all G7 nations, after Germany. Current projections on Britain’s national income figures indicate that cuts will cause Britain to place third, after France.

Oxfam’s head of government relations, Sam Nadel said, ‘The government is cutting aid at a time we have war in Ukraine, the Covid pandemic and millions of people in Africa on the brink of starvation. It’s the most horrific timing.’

As the world grapples with multiple crisis at once, this is surely ‘the worst moment in history’ to withhold funding for international aid.

Despite lessons that should have been learned from a lack of preparedness for the pandemic, it appears short-sightedness is still a problem for government decision makers, which could hurt the UK in the long run.

To view a further breakdown on the impact of previous budget cuts, click here.


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