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Lowering 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 and damage the UK's international reputation.
The rationale behind rumored cuts to the aid budget may seem logical at first glance, but it is scratching beneath the surface and starting to unravel.
The proposal is to reduce the aid budget from 0.7% GNI to 0.5% GNI. This is in addition to the existing £ 2.9 billion in cuts due to economic contraction, to help cover the financial impact of Covid-19. However, such a move would not only be wrong, it would also be a mistake, harm millions of people at home and abroad and damage the UK's international reputation.
Consider timing first. Cutting aid – money meant to fight deadly diseases – in the middle, a pandemic would be a victory for the virus. This would remove vital support for millions of the world's poorest people, weakening their country's ability to fight deadly diseases – not just Covid-19, but HIV / AIDS, malaria, among others.
Supporting our neighbors is not only the right choice, it is also smart. This pandemic has shown how we are all connected. Viruses clearly don't respect borders and until everyone is safe, no one is safe. Countries with weaker health systems are less likely to beat Covid-19, increasing the risk of it returning to our shores, possibly in a mutated form that available vaccines would not protect against. Anything we do at this crucial moment that extends the pandemic or increases the risk of disease prevalence during a global health crisis would harm us as well as harm others.
Cuts in the aid budget would undermine Britain's ability to profile itself internationally and undermine our ability to achieve our foreign policy goals.
Other global challenges threatening Britain require our commitment, whether we like it or not, particularly climate change. By supporting people in the world's poorest countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, and by encouraging a move towards a low-carbon society, a better future is created for all. This will not only benefit Britain in the long run as it helps build a world less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but rather as we grow political capital by hosting the COP26 2021 climate change summit – gains that could be jeopardized if we hold a summit without a commitment to support our role.
Cuts in the aid budget would undermine Britain's ability to profile itself internationally, and undermine our ability to achieve our foreign policy goals. Defense, diplomacy and development work together, with both components complementing each other. The reverse happens when you weaken one of these – it harms the others, forcing them to do more to close the remaining gap. This was said bluntly by US General Mattis: "If you cut off the State Department [which provides aid], you will have to buy me more bullets."
The UK's pledge to provide 0.7% of our national income in aid is a feather in our hat internationally. It works as intended and adapts to the state of public finances.
Just as I would pay less tax if my income fell, our aid budget has already fallen as the UK economy has contracted due to Covid-19. To make further cuts would mean losing these assets that benefit us globally, harming the UK national interest. It would also be unwise to take such a step before the Integrated Review is published, in anticipation of this vision's conclusions for what kind of world we would like to see and how we will help build it.
A strong parallel is that of the situation with footballer Marcus Rashford, whose campaign to help feed underprivileged children aroused national sympathy and support for the cause. The proposed cuts in aid would have similar consequences to those of Mr. Rashford campaigned against, but this time the children who would feel the impact live in other parts of the world.
Britain is a force for the good in the world, and cutting aid budgets at the expense of millions of people in poverty risks it.
Romilly Greenhill is the UK director of The ONE Campaign, a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases by 2030.