Last week, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab published a long-awaited statement about the UK government plans to cut aid spending. But the announcement — and Raab's appearance before MPs on the International Development Committee — raised more questions than answers. All that's clear is the world's most vulnerable people will bear the brunt of the UK abandoning its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on aid.
MAG has joined with hundreds of organisations to raise our concerns. Above all, we are worried about the impact on those in countries affected by conflict, where we know from our work on the ground that humanitarian need is often most acute. The cuts will fall heavily on humanitarian preparedness and response, with initial estimates revealing that the new budget represents a 34 per cent drop compared to last year and a 44 per cent drop against 2019.
There are also questions over UK Aid support to the Middle East, which is notable for its absence from the Foreign Secretary's statement. MAG works daily to clear the deadly legacy of conflict across the region. We have seen the life-saving impact of UK Aid first-hand in countries like Iraq and Lebanon, where landmines and unexploded bombs from conflicts past and present continue to scar lives and communities.
Clearing unexploded ordnance is a cornerstone of post-conflict recovery and development. UK Aid spent in countries from South Sudan to Laos means children can go back to school safely, communities can grow crops on their land, and families can return to their homes. It promotes economic growth and paves the way for sustainable development in communities blighted by the deadly debris of war. Returning safe land to communities reduces demand for other forms of humanitarian assistance, such as food aid and housing, while allowing refugees to return home.
Withdrawing support for communities as they recover from war will further compound the instability caused not just by conflict but by stubborn poverty, climate change and the challenges of Covid-19. Already, MAG staff on the ground see all too clearly how these issues intersect. In places like Iraq and north-east Nigeria, Covid-related issues such as disruptions to aid have forced people back onto unsafe land, putting their lives at risk to earn a living to feed themselves and their families. Abandoning such vulnerable people amid multiple crises should be unthinkable.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office must act quickly to provide a detailed and meaningful breakdown of the cuts, including clarity about how they will fall across countries and specific programmes. Furthermore, the government must commit to a timetable for reinstating the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target. Not only would this help restore the UK's reputation on the world stage, but crucially prevent the loss of innocent lives and the reversal of hard-won development gains.