The decision on Overseas Development Aid (ODA) was a very difficult one, however I respect the basis of the Government’s decision for doing so. Spending in the last year has been unprecedented. The Government spent £407 billion protecting jobs and funding the emergency health response to the pandemic. As a consequence borrowing increased to five times its normal rate (the highest level since World War II) and national debt is the highest it has been in sixty years – standing in total at £2 trillion. The fall-out from this crisis will not be fixed overnight and the Government will still need to meet high levels of public spending in the months ahead as we recover.
I am of course conscious that retaining the 0.7% of Gross National Income figure was a 2019 manifesto commitment I stood upon, however I also stood on a manifesto commitment to responsibly manage public spending. This does mean carefully assessing other areas of public spending to support those areas where money is needed the most and given the exceptional economic and financial challenge that this country is facing, it was right to review our aid commitment in this context.
The reduction in our foreign aid and development spending does not represent a retreat in our commitment to the world, or in our ambition to improve the lives of millions across the globe. On the contrary, it is clear that the UK remains a global player in international development which is more than just the single financial commitment being reported, and I want to take this opportunity to outline what current UK overseas aid look like.
The UK’s core Overseas Development Aid (ODA) budget (the 0.5% figure voted on) is still worth at least £10 billion this year. This represents a higher contribution as a share of GDP than Canada, Japan, Italy and the USA. The aid we provide to developing nations is a mixture of immediate humanitarian aid to countries struck by disasters such as famine and war, and longer-term ‘stabilisation’ projects – such as the widely reported grants made to the Indian space programme. It is from these latter where the majority of these cuts are being made. This has been accompanied by a significant effort to ensure that more of the money we do spend reaches those in need, and is not spent on waste and administration.
It also should not be forgotten that the UK contributes tens of billions of pounds each year to development and aid projects which are on top of our core ODA budget of £10 billion. These represent some of the highest sums of money to aid projects of any nation in the world and make us the third highest bilateral contributor to humanitarian aid globally as well as continue our role as global leaders. These additional commitments include:
- We are a founding and integral member of COVAX group – who are vaccinating the developing world – which has so far distributed billions of doses of Covid vaccines. We have invested hundreds of millions of pounds supporting this programme.
- The UK has spent £400 million on girls’ education this year, with an additional £430 million pledged to the Global Partnership for Education – more than any other country – with the Prime Minister working globally to secure more funding.
- An additional £900 million to help prevent and alleviate the hardships of famine in Syria, Ethiopia and Yemen. In Yemen alone, the Government’s response and pledge for more funding will mean an additional 240,000 people will be fed, 400 healthcare clinics will be supported and 1.6 million more people will have access to clean water. This is on top of the lives being saved and supported in our core ODA budget.
- £500 million is also spent on peacekeeping operations around the globe, protecting communities across the globe from violence and instability.
- We have also reduced punitive food tariffs made by the EU against African food exports, injecting over £1 billion into regional economies.
- £11.6 billion – double the previous commitment – is being invested in developing countries to help them tackle the biggest existential threat we all face: climate change.
- We are the single biggest contributor to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – worth over £1.3 billion – who have and continue to protect countless children against deadly diseases.
- We are the third highest contributor to the World Health Organisation, with our spending commitment set to increase by a further 30%, a clear indication of the leading role we will play to support global public health.
- Our role in creating the world’s most popular vaccine, the Oxford AstraZeneca (which is the most realistic prospect of vaccinating the world), should also not be forgotten. This has already led to the vaccination of 1.5 billion people this year.
Finally, last week’s vote does not alter the Government’s commitment to returning OA spending to 0.7% of GNI. When the independent Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that public spending meets our manifesto commitment, aid spending at 0.7% of GNI will be restored. I would not have voted for any plan which did not have a full strategy for the restoration of aid.
I fully understand the extent of feeling on this topic. It was no easy matter to vote for the cut, but in the midst of a once in a century event, difficult decisions have to be made.