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Mother and child in South Sudan

A promise to the poor is particularly sacred - Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The UK government has broken its manifesto pledge and cut the overseas aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI). This 0.2% cut represents £4bn less going to the world’s poorest people.

Published on 30 July 2021

You will, of course, have heard of the recent decision by the UK government to cut its aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income. The justification being that the UK needs to recover from the pandemic.

The decision, voted through by a small minority, is really disappointing.

Disappointing because the concept of foreign aid has been around for quite some time. Since the 18th century, nations have supported other nations who are strategically important to them, providing military support or economic support with the aim of ensuring a good economic or political return for themselves. In 1970, the UN set a commitment target for richer nations to give 0.7% of their gross national income to poorer countries. The UK failed to meet that target until, in 2015, David Cameron’s Conservative Government wrote the commitment into law. The law has cross-party consensus and is applicable for 25 years. The financial support, which fluctuates according to national income, ensures that vulnerable communities have access to education, healthcare, sanitation and food.

Disappointing because, less than a decade after it was achieved, the UK Government has voted to cut the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5%. The UK is the only country in the G7 who has proposed such a reduction.

Disappointing because an estimated £4 billion has now been taken out of the aid budget without a full assessment of the impact on the projects which the budget funds.

Disappointing because real people – men, women and children – are going to be impacted around the world. In Bangladesh, despite the importance of good hand hygiene during coronavirus, sanitation funding will be cut.  In Yemen and Syria, no humanitarian assistance will be available. In South Sudan, Christian Aid’s church-led peacebuilding programme has been terminated.

We are disappointed – yet, as an organisation rooted in faith and in the belief that poverty is not what God wants for this world, we are always hopeful that change is possible. We are speaking out against these proposed cuts. Yes, we can see the impact of the funding on communities across the world and fear for the consequences. But we also see the witness Christian Aid supporters have in their local communities when they stand up for their global neighbours.

Our supporters have a proud tradition of never turning a blind eye to those in need around the world. People give money, sign petitions or bake cakes because they believe helping those in need is a fundamental part of their faith.

Thanks to Christian Aid churches, we continue to support the most vulnerable communities in the face of emergency, conflict or climate disaster. We are working with those most susceptible to coronavirus, ensuring people have access to reliable health information and sanitation facilities. We are calling for a global vaccine in the knowledge that we will not be free of the virus until everyone is protected.

We are disappointed – yet hopeful because of YOU.

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we are all connected. We are neighbours across the street and around the world. The repurposing of 0.2% of national income for domestic use translates to an extra 2p in every £10. Without doubting the importance of 2p to some, it arguably won’t go very far in the UK. But small sums of money work very hard in communities in the global south. It can mean the difference between life and death, education and poverty, harvest and famine.  

As my colleague, Sally Foster-Fulton (Head of Christian Aid Scotland) has said “These are tough times and governments have tough decisions to make but balancing the books on the backs of the poor isn’t the way to do it. Since the pandemic started many of us have come to realise just how interconnected our lives are with others across the world, our global neighbours. With coronavirus, conflict and climate change pushing 41 million people in over 40 countries towards famine, this is not the time to reduce the aid budget, even temporarily.”

Consider taking action alongside us – take the 0.2% Pledge.