Is it right to slash the UK’s foreign aid budget?
However much 0.7% of Britain’s gross national income converts to in actual money, the figure, taken as a percentage of the whole, is pretty miniscule. Back in 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron enshrined in law the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of what is more formally known as our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on foreign aid. But citing the damage caused to public finances by the coronavirus crisis, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has now cut that figure to 0.5% of our GDP, in effect a saving of between four and five billion pounds. The last Conservative Party manifesto had promised to maintain foreign aid spending at the 0.7% level, so the Chancellor’s move has provoked anger and disquiet, with both Cameron and another former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, describing it as a “strategic mistake.”
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Sugg, whose brief included overseas development, resigned in protest, while former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell called the cuts “absolutely outrageous” and warned of up to “100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children.” In hard cash terms the cuts amount to around a third of the previous foreign aid budget, and charities, aid experts, and some MPs are claiming that in the world’s poorest countries the reduction will hit women and children hardest, with up to a million girls losing out on schooling, nearly three million women and children going without lifesaving nutrition services, and more than five million children left unvaccinated against life-threatening diseases.
Jean-Michel Grand, executive director of Action Against Hunger said, “Clinics will close, nurses will lose their jobs and children will lose their lives.” He added that with the World Food Programme warning of famines of “biblical proportions” this year, the world is crying out for global leadership, and that the Chancellor’s decision sends out a message that the UK doesn’t want the job. Foreign aid has long been a controversial issue, with some of the wealthier countries more willing to dip deeper into their pockets than others. But with many of the developing nations now set to lose out being former British colonies, critics of Rishi Sunak say he could have looked elsewhere to make savings. Some claim that this matter is one that painfully pricks the UK’s collective conscience, while others believe more that charity should not just begin at home, but should remain there.
What our surveys show
This is an issue on which the great British public is divided. On the surface, the majority response to our question on whether or not foreign aid to poorer countries should be increased, decreased, or remain the same, was support for the cutbacks.
Overall, 54% of those surveyed agreed with the decision to cut foreign aid, whilst just 19% said it should be increased and 16% thought it should stay the same. The remaining 10% said they don’t know.
At first glance, that’s a fairly healthy thumbs-up for the Chancellor’s slashing of foreign aid. But looking more closely at the figures, both generationally and along Leave and Remain lines, a very different picture emerges. Breaking down those figures we see that while 74% of Leavers supported the cuts, only 34% of Remainers felt the same, with almost as many of those Remainers, 30%, believing aid should actually be increased.
The differences are generational as well as political, which is perhaps unsurprising. A whopping 82% of the older, Traditional voters were in favour of cuts whilst the babies of the group, Generation Z, were only 16% in favour with 39% wanting an increase, and the remaining 10% don’t know.