This week the Government announced plans to temporarily cut the foreign aid budget from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%. This was put to a vote and is something I also supported. Having spoken to many people on the doorstep about this issue, there is a real frustration among constituents at the amount of money we spend abroad, with many saying that ‘charity should start at home’. Some have even suggested that we should scrap the aid budget entirely.
But this is not something that will realistically happen and I think most of us will agree with the principle that we play our part in the world and help others in need where we can. As a child, I remember seeing the horrendous scenes from Ethiopia and the famine which claimed so many lives. We have also seen many natural disasters and providing humanitarian assistance where it is needed has been something we can be incredibly proud of. Indeed, it is the right thing to do.
This does not mean that foreign aid should be thrown around without proper scrutiny however. I am a member of the International Development Select Committee and the level of aid we provide and its effectiveness is something I question people on every week in Parliament. Like yourselves, it has always amazed me to hear reports of money being given to countries such as China and India, or being spent in countries where they can afford nuclear weapons or space programmes.
Thankfully, we keep much tighter controls of how our money is spent nowadays. It is only right, at a time when many of us are struggling, that every government department takes a look at their spending and international development should be no different.
It should be noted that this is only a temporary cut and that aid will return to 0.7% once our economy sufficiently recovers. We are still spending more on overseas development than most other countries. Based on 2019 OECD data, the UK would be the G7’s second highest ODA spending country as a proportion of gross national income, spending more than Japan (0.29%), Canada (0.27%), Italy (0.24%), and the US (0.1%). The UK has spent 0.7% on ODA every year since 2013 – the only G7 member to do so. Conservative governments have spent more on international aid than Labour. Between 1997 and 2009 under Labour governments, average UK spend on ODA was just 0.36% of GNI.
The UK also contributes to humanitarian causes on top of our foreign aid budget. For example, we spent around £350 million per year on UN peacekeeping and we also spent £80 million on developing the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine, providing this to developing nations and selling it to others at cost price.
So in context, the UK still remains one of the most generous nations in the world when it comes to international aid. However, it is right at this time that manage our finances responsibly and that is why I have supported this temporary cut.