Cutting the aid budget risks Global Britain’s role as a force for good
Cutting aid - money which is intended to fight killer disease - in the middle a pandemic would be a win for the virus, writes Romilly Greenhill. | PA Images
Cutting the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% - to help cover the financial impact of Covid-19 - will harm millions of people at home and abroad, as well as damage the UK’s international standing.
The rationale for rumoured cuts to the aid budget might appear logical at first glance, but scratch beneath the surface and it begins to unravel.
The proposal is to reduce the aid budget from 0.7% GNI to 0.5% GNI. This is on top of the existing £2.9bn in cuts coming due to economic shrinkage, to help cover the financial impact of Covid-19. However, such a move would not only be wrong, it would be a mistake, causing harm to millions of people at home and abroad, as well as damaging the UK’s international standing.
First, consider the timing. Cutting aid - money which is intended to fight killer disease - in the middle a pandemic would be a win for the virus. This would remove vital support for millions of the world’s poorest people, weakening their countries’ ability to fight killer diseases - not just Covid-19, but HIV/AIDS, Malaria, among others.
Supporting our neighbours is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. This pandemic has shown how we are all interconnected. Viruses clearly do not respect borders and until everyone is safe, no one is safe. Countries with weaker health systems are less likely to defeat Covid-19, increasing the risk of it returning to our shores, potentially in a mutated form which the vaccines available would not protect against. Anything we do at this crucial juncture that prolongs the pandemic, or increases the risk of prevalence of disease in a global health crisis, would harm us as well as harming others.
Cuts to the aid budget would dent Britain’s ability to project itself internationally, undermining our ability to achieve our foreign policy objectives
Other global challenges which threaten Britain require our involvement whether we like it or not, most notably, climate change. Supporting people in the world’s poorest countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea-levels, as well as encouraging a move towards a low-carbon society, creates a better future for all. This will benefit Britain not just in the long term, helping build a world less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but sooner as we grow political capital by hosting the COP26 climate change summit in 2021 - gains that could be jeopardised if we host a summit without the commitment to back up our role.
Cuts to the aid budget would dent Britain’s ability to project itself internationally, undermining our ability to achieve our foreign policy objectives. Defence, diplomacy and development work in concert, with each strand complementing each other. The reverse happens when you weaken one of these - it harms the others, requiring them to do more to cover the gap left. This was put bluntly by the US’ General Mattis: “If you cut the State Department [who deliver aid], you’re going to have to buy me more bullets”.
The UK’s commitment to deliver 0.7% of our national income in aid is a feather in our cap internationally. It is working as intended, adjusting accordingly with the state of the public finances.
Just as I would pay less tax if my income went down, our aid budget has already gone down as the British economy has shrunk due to Covid-19. Cutting further would mean we’d lose this asset we benefit from globally, harming the British national interest. It would also be unwise to make such a move before the Integrated Review has been published, pre-empting the conclusions of this vision for what type of world we’d like to see and how we’re going to help build it.
A stark parallel is that of the situation with footballer Marcus Rashford, whose campaign to help feed underprivileged children sparked nationwide sympathy and support for the cause. The proposed cuts to aid would have similar consequences to those Mr. Rashford was campaigning against, only this time the children who’d feel the impact live in other parts of the world.
Britain is a force for good in the world, cutting the aid budget, at the expense of millions of people in poverty, risks that.
Romilly Greenhill is the UK Director of The ONE Campaign, a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030.