The government of the (frequently less and less) United Kingdom has made some contentious decisions over the last few months (understatement of the year). Each decision building upon a previous, eventually showing the character, aims and goals of the government. For this picece today I’m going to focus on the Foreign Aid budget scandal.
Another piece of evidence into the character behind the Johnson government.
What is the “Foreign Aid Budget Scandal”?
In 2015 the UK passed a bill enshrining in law the government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid. There’s a news story on the law’s passing in the Guardian. This had been in party election pledges for many years before but had taken time to actually happen.
This was in part of the government of the time signing up to support the United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals:
The 0.7% being enshrined in law was a good thing, but it just dictactes an amount. As for whether that amount was enough (it wasn’t) and whether it was being spent properly (sometimes yes, sometimes no), that required further conversations.
This law is still in place and indeed, the target was championed in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto:
So what changed?
Well, in the middle of global pandemic, the Johnson Conservative goverment abolished the Department for International Development in June 2020. At the time PM Johnson claimed:
“abolishing the separate Department for International Development
(DfID) would mean aid spending better reflected UK aims.”
Johnson also claimed:
However, [PM Johnson] pledged DfID’s budget – which at 15bn last year dwarfed the £2.4bn spent by the FCO – would be maintained, with the UK commited to continuing to spend 0.7% of national income on aid projects.
This was further re-inforced by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in September 2020:
“Press reports suggest Chancellor Rishi Sunak will cut aid spending to help pay off rising debts in his Autumn budget. But Mr Raab said the 0.7% target was a manifesto commitment that was written into law.”
That lasted until November 2020 when this happened:
Using the cover of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the reduced tax income of the Government (mostly thanks to the Government’s own bad decisions fighting the pandemic) the Chancellor broke the Manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on Foreign Aid.
As the Devex piece notes, we were a good performer with the 0.7% commitment, with USA only spending 0.12% and German 0.6% (though due to size, the USA’s 0.12% is more in $$$ terms than our 0.7%).
Essentialy the government is saying “we have to cut Foreign Aid spending because we can’t afford it right now”.
Why is this a scandal?
Obviously the renaging on an election manifesto commitment is an important reason.
Stepping back as a supporter of people in need around the world at the same time you’re promoting your country as “Global Britain” seems two-faced.
I’ve one more important reason: Yemen.
Yemen is currently suffering a dire state of affairs. Trapped in the midst of a Civil War that’s being manipulated by outsiders, ordinary people have seen their lives ruined. As Unicef highlights:
“Half of Yemeni children (under the age of 5) – half – are chronically malnourished.“
The UK government knows this.
They knew it when they made the decision to merge the Department For International Development and the Foreign Office.
They knew it when they decided to cut the rate of Foreign Aid.
They know it now.
James Cleverley (a man ribbed as being very mis-named) Foreign Office Minister said that this year the UK would contribute “at least £87m” to Yemen.
However, Sky News notes:
“This is a fall of 59% from 2020/21, when the figure stood at £214m.“
The move to cut funding has been resoundingly condemned by a large number of MPs (from both sides of the aisle) agencies and charities:
“Care International chief executive Laurie Lee said:
“If the government cuts aid to Yemen today, which is the worst humanitarian disaster
in the world, it will take aid away from hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine.”
This from Conservative former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell:
It gets worse?
Sadly, it does get worse because we’re cutting aid to a region in desperate need, whilst at the same time being in large part responsible for some of the damage, deaths and destruction caused.
What many people forget about the United Kingdom is we have a thriving industry for selling weapons and vehicles around the world. We are still selling arms to Saudi Arabia who are actively bombing Yemen.
“Last month, the latest government figures showed that London authorised the sale of $1.88bn worth of arms to Riyadh – including missiles and bombs – between the period of July and September 2020.“
There’s more here from Oxfam:
The Oxfam piece is fully sourced, please do take the time to read: https://oxfamapps.org/media/press_release/oxfam-big-increase-in-uk-government-arms-export-licences-to-saudi-arabia-immoral/
We’re cutting the funding for an area that desperately needs it so people don’t starve to death, whilst at the same time making a profit selling arms to some of the countries causing the death and destruction.
That’s it though right? There’s no more?
Oh dear reader how I wish that were true.
5th March 2021 Open Democracy has published this scoop:
I recommend you read the piece as it’s vitally important and well sourced and researched.
I’m going to highlight 2 quotes:
“In the budget this week, the FCDO – which has subsumed the Department for International Development – had its departmental budget cut from £12.7bn to £9.9bn.”
“A British government spokesperson said: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.”
So notice that now the FCDO has control of the Department for International Development, one of he first things the Conservatives did is slash its operating budget.
Notice again, the government blaming “lack of money” for the reason.
On a completely un-related note, here’s Lord Frost (un-elected Minister for Brexit) writing in the Telegraph 6th March 2021:
Picture source: https://twitter.com/mikegalsworthy/status/1368579076705902593
Let me pick the relevent quotes out for this discussion:
“Finally, this country now has a huge opportunity to shape the international scene for the better.
In recent years it was too often claimed that Britain was no longer interested in playing a major international role…
The British people are internationalist and want to make a difference in the world.”
Well, we’re certainly going to do that indeed, by starving a load of people it seems.
But it gets better, remember that, over the period of several months now the government has complained of lack of funds for Foreign Aid?
“And we are bolstering our armed forces with the biggest increase in our defence budget since the Cold War, comfortably exceeding the Nato pledge of 2 per cent of GDP.“
So we’re sailing above a 2 percent GDP (not GNI) target for funding the defence forces but struggling to find money for staving people in South Sudan?
What does that say about the priorities of the Johnson Government?
In South Sudan, where millions face catastrophic famine, the UK’s aid spend is set to drop from £110m to just £45m.Peter Geoghegan – Open Democracy
To sum up
The UK Government has broken its own manifesto commitment to keep foreign aid at 0.7% GNI.
The UK Government has broken a legal agreement for the same.
They have done this whilst at the same time increasing funding to the arm forces in excess of its agreed target and whilst knowing that, because of its actions, thousands of people will suffer and starve.
All the while selling arms to countries that cause the destruction that causes the need for aid.
That is a scandal.
Thank you for reading.
Please click the link to make a donation to the UN relief fund for Yemen.