This blog is an opinion piece by Nicholas Rutherford, the Event Director of AidEx and Development2030.
At a time when the UK should be stepping-up and showing leadership on the international stage – especially in preparation for hosting next year’s UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow – Rishi Sunak’s announcement that the UK aid budget is to be cut by one third has come as a huge disappointment for the A&D community.
Perhaps then, it was no surprise when Baroness Sugg, who was the Minister for Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), as well as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education, chose to resign as a protest against the cut.
Speaking at the recent AidEx webinar series on the hostile takeover of DfID by the FCO, Preet Kaul Gill, MP and UK Shadow Secretary of State for International Development said, “In the UK the government also chose to scrap the Department for International Development in the midst of a global pandemic… We all know that there are those for whom the status quo has worked, where retreating inwards rather than standing up has benefited them. I know that because at this moment, that is exactly what the UK government is doing.”
DfID staff were ‘devastated and demoralised’ by the Foreign Office merger. When prime minister Boris Johnson announced the merger in the House of Commons, only a few months before Rishi Sunak’s bombshell, he pledged to maintain the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid.
It might be as Sunak has suggested, that government cuts reflect the British people’s priorities at a time of unparalleled economic emergency but I would argue that the UK has gone from being a beacon of light and broken its promises to pretty much everyone and more especially the poorest people in the world.
As Lady Sugg wrote in her letter of resignation: ‘I believe it is fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development. This promise should be kept in the tough times as well as the good.’
Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell has also criticised Rishi Sunak's cut in Britain's foreign aid budget, arguing the chancellor's decision to cut foreign aid was a "shameful mistake" that would hurt Britain's world standing.
Let us not forget that as recently as 1900, one in five of all people on the planet were governed by the British. Two thirds of the world’s ships were British and the country’s factories made high profits converting raw materials into new products for worldwide distribution.
Although it might not seem so now, the UK is a rich country with a particular responsibility to help. I know that we are not supposed to discuss our colonial past and if we do the official line is that LDCs are poor because of their own internal problems.
Of course this is not entirely true and governments of wealthy countries like the UK should try harder to explain the facts to their people - to remind the anti-aid lobby of the evils of our imperial past, of extreme racism and antisemitism - completely unacceptable by the standards of today. Perhaps it is so shocking that most people could not begin to comprehend. But one thing is clear, in terms of the development budget, even 0.7% of gross national income is infinitesimal compared to the centuries of widescale plundering and cruel exploitation.
As one political satirist puts it so well: ‘Even our charity is essentially patronising. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself. Alternatively, don’t poison the fishing waters, abduct his great-grandparents into slavery, then turn up 400 years later on your gap year talking a lot of rubbish about fish.’
And, in a further nod to satire when the Guardian newspaper commented on Comic Relief’s focus on Malawi and Uganda, especially in light of Britain having been the former colonial power – ‘Thanks for the gold, lads, thanks for the diamonds. We had a whip-round and got you a fishing rod.’
Summing up, Andrew Mitchell says: “The effect of the cuts is that probably we will have 100,000 avoidable deaths; 7.6 million women and girls will not get access to contraception - which we have previously promised, and we'll probably take one million girls out of school.”
“The Government will require legislation to get these cuts through the House of Commons and will have to get it through the House of Lords,” he said.
“As it was a manifesto commitment the House of Lords will not be bound by the [Salzburg Convention] ... it was in the manifesto and the House of Lords will undoubtedly in my view kick it out and say - no you've got to stand by your promise.”
Hmm – I suppose there is a first time for everything!