Foreign aid budget cuts causes harm at home and abroad

Many Conservative MPs have been triumphantly crowing on social media that the government is planning to reduce our foreign aid budget.

Make no mistake, not only will this impact on some of the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people during a pandemic, but it will also impact negatively on scientific jobs and research funding right here in the UK. Decades of research will be affected.

If these Tory MPs, who claim we cannot afford to meet our foriegn aid commitments, were genuinely wanting to save taxpayer’s money, they would call out the corruption and cronyism from their own government ministers.

Instead, they are boasting about breaking their manifesto promises to maintain our current level of foreign aid. Conveniently, they don’t explain that our foreign aid budget helps fund polio eradication programmes, the manufacturing of prosthetic limbs for landmine victims, UN refugee camps and UK science jobs.

The most pressing challenges we face as a civilisation are truly global in nature – climate change, the growing resistance of bacteria to our antibiotics, how to manage and feed our fast-growing population and fighting pandemics.

All these issues will directly affect the UK.

None of these issues can be addressed by any country working alone.

Much of the UK foreign aid budget is focused on tackling these issues.

Some of this money funds British scientists carrying out research into infectious diseases in developing countries. Diseases such as rabies, polio and avian influenza all have the potential to affect the UK.

So when our foreign aid budget is cut, some UK scientists lose their funding and potentially their jobs. Ground breaking research projects which were awarded money some months ago have since had all funding retracted bringing them to a sudden halt. There is no doubt that this will cost lives.

The majority of our foreign aid is spent in the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries, including Syria and Afghanistan. In these conflict regions most of this research is built on years building relationships and trust to encouraging people to engage with science – all this hard work a progress is now at risk.

Some mean spirited Tory MPs have long banged on about reducing foreign aid because they are either too ignorant to understand the consequences of their actions, or they simply enjoy whipping up xenophobia by using the foreign aid budget and refugee crisis as a political football.

They like to peddle the false narrative that it is EITHER tax rises OR foreign aid, whilst simultaneously wasting £39 billion on an ineffective test and trace system. This contract for test and trace was awarded, along with many other contracts during the last 12 months, to friends or relations of Tory ministers without following proper procurement processes. In comparison, our annual foreign aid budget is a mere £15 billion pounds.

Some of these MPs claim that we must reduce our foreign aid this year due to the hit our economy has taken from the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. They seem to forget that our foreign aid budget is set at 0.7% of our GDP. So when our economy shrinks, or if we enter a recession, the amount we spend on foreign aid is automatically reduced.

Many of these MPs have campaigned hard on reducing immigration and stopping refugees and asylum seekers from entering the UK. The best way to do that is to improve the health, education and security of those living in the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries. If people feel safe, healthy, have educational prospects and are not in fear for their lives, they won’t risk dangerous journeys to escape to Europe and the UK. That is precisely what our foreign aid budget aims to do.

Those Conservative MPs with an understanding of international affairs, and those who actually care about keeping manifesto pledges, have a different view.

Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, the former International Development secretary, recently said, “Brexit was supposed to be about enhancing the power of parliament, not ignoring its will on a matter where every single one of us was elected just over a year ago on a firm and clear promise to stand by our commitments to the poorest.”

The heads of 17 aid agencies, green groups and think-tanks criticised the government for breaking their promise by saying the planned cut in foriegn aid would
would “fail” the poorest countries who are “at the frontline of a climate crisis they did not cause”.

“It has never been more important that UK aid and climate finance work together to build resilience in the face of climate change and the COVID-19 crisis,” they wrote.

The middle of a pandemic is the worst possible time to implement cuts to the world’s poorest people. If this government was going to keep just one of its election promises, it’s a shame it wasn’t this one.

* Danny Chambers is a veterinary surgeon and writer, and was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for North Cornwall in the 2019 General Election.

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  • Alan Holford, 18th Apr '21 - 1:25pm

    A great article Danny, thanks for writing it! This short sighted thinking is populism at its worst. Why chase the votes of the ignorant rather than educate them as to the benefits of international aid? You’ve shown how easy that is to do in a simple, punchy and easy to digest article here. Perhaps you could release it as a speech/video to get more reach too?

  • It is hard to see the rationale behind this ‘temporary’ reduction. As Danny Chambers writes:
    “when our economy shrinks, or if we enter a recession, the amount we spend on foreign aid is automatically reduced.”
    The aid budget was 14.5bn in 2020 and is now reduced to 10bn. Still a large amount of money, but as the article concludes “The middle of a pandemic is the worst possible time to implement cuts to the world’s poorest people.
    Both Cameron and Blair have warned against the cuts (as have Major and Brown) Even General Lord David Richards, former head of the British Army, backed the former prime ministers, saying it was in the UK’s interests to be “as generous as possible”, adding: “It’s much cheaper than fighting wars.”

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