A further £800m is being slashed from the UK’s overseas aid spending, days after Jeremy Hunt pledged that the country would remain a world leader “in tackling global poverty”.
The 30 per cent cut in direct aid to needy countries – for the next two years – follows those projects being hit by a steep budget cut last year, a senior MP warned.
Sarah Champion, chair of the Commons international development committee, also accused the foreign secretary James Cleverly of burying the bad news as he announced that a “pause” on non-essential spending was being lifted.
The Labour MP said it was an attempt to disguise the £800m cut from spending in 2021-22, which would “balance the books on the backs of its bilateral partners, the projects which have already seen the harshest cuts”.
“The devastation the world’s poorest people face without assistance will be profound,” Ms Champion added, referring to warnings of famine in Somalia and neighbouring countries.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office refused to answer any questions from The Independent about the fresh cuts.
Mr Cleverly’s statement said only: “We are now able to lift the pause on ODA [official development assistance] spending and activity and will act swiftly to manage our bilateral programmes this financial year.”
The Independent revealed in August that billions of pounds’ worth of additional cuts were looming unless ministers abandoned rules diverting a quarter of funds to cover the cost of hosting Ukrainian refugees in the UK.
The alarm was raised over a controversial decision to include spending on the 118,000 Ukrainians welcomed to Britain within a budget reduced to only 0.5 per cent of GDP and then capped.
Under pressure, Mr Hunt announced an extra £1bn in this financial year and £1.5bn in 2023-24 to help meet those costs – but not enough to avoid the further cuts. He told MPs in his autumn statement that the UK remained “the third-highest donor in the G7 last year” and would “continue to play a leadership role in tackling global poverty”.
The government has broken a pledge to restore aid funding to 0.7 per cent of national income in 2024, as the country heads into recession. But it is expected to spend around 0.55 per cent – not the 0.5 per cent intended – over the next two years, as the “pause” on non-essential spending failed to find all the sought-after cuts.
Ms Champion added: “The foreign secretary commits to being more transparent about the government’s spend, but, without warning, his department has snuck out a statement on the UK’s spending on foreign aid, with no meaningful figures attached.
“Unlike the previous Department for International Development, we see no substantial detail, no impact assessment or predictability of funding to give the poorest in the world hope that we will honour our development pledges. What we can glean from the statement is the ODA allocation is down by £0.8bn compared to the last financial year.”