Why UK international development assistance should not be cut

25 November 2020
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Photo: Clare Short with Philip Dearden and Vice-Chancellor Geoff Layer

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There are no grounds for breaking legal commitments or for turning our backs on countries and people at a time of great need.

News that the UK government is set to renege on its commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid could not come at a worse time for the world’s poorest countries and people and for international cooperation more broadly.

A few years ago, we in CIDT had the honour of presenting Clare Short for an honorary degree at the University of Wolverhampton. View the news feature about this  and the Encomium.

It was Clare Short, when she was Minister of International Development, who set out a route map for the UK Government to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) target on international development assistance.  This target was achieved in 2013 and is enshrined in law.

Until recently the moral, social and economic imperative for international Development Assistance that Clare Short outlined has been successfully maintained.

Now however the threat of change is very real with a proposal to reduce the 0.7% to 0.5% released last week. In the light of this proposal CIDT is amongst the 19 bodies that have signed the Development Studies Association statement urging the Government to maintain its commitment:

The UK government’s decision to reduce our UK aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income represents a betrayal of our longstanding commitment to the world’s poorest people. The timing is abysmal. The pandemic is reversing decades of progress in reducing global poverty and this cut means that the poorest people will now be denied over £4 billion of what has been amongst the world’s best-targeted package of aid spending. Now is the time – amidst the threats of pandemic and climate change – to signal a renewed commitment to the international cooperation required to deal with these fundamentally global problems. Throwing the UK’s full weight behind efforts to reduce poverty, share vaccines widely and address climate change is not just the right thing to do but is clearly also in the national self-interest. Instead, this cut diminishes the prospects of meeting the SDGs and diminishes our legitimacy to play a leading role in these processes, including with regards to its G7 leadership and convening of COP26 next year. We understand the domestic fiscal challenges but the reason International Development Act sets this commitment in law is precisely to insulate our aid commitment from domestic policy priorities. While there are different debates about the political economies of aid, this is not the time to use such arguments to waver from our commitment to make a difference to some of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities in low income countries.

We are also deeply concerned by the announcement of such far-reaching decisions before the conclusion of UK Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and Development, which will now report next year. This suggests that decisions are being taken on the grounds of ideology without reference to evidence.

The Development Studies Association urges the government to reconsider this punitive cut to UK aid. It calls on MPs from all parties to oppose the legislation required for these cuts to be enacted. Successive governments – Labour, Conservative-Liberal Democrat and Conservative– have invested heavily in building the UK’s reputation as a global leader in international development, with real benefits for poverty reduction. This government should not throw away these hard-won gains without a full and open discussion of the alternative pathways that remain available to the UK to play a leading role in making the world a more just, safe and sustainable place.

Signatories

Prof Sam Hickey DSA president, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester 
Prof Uma Kambhampati DSA secretary, Department of Economics, University of Reading
Prof Melissa Leach Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex 
Prof Kathryn Hochstetler Department of International Development, London School of Economics 
Prof Khalid Nadvi Global Development Institute, University of Manchester 
Prof Zoë Marriage Department of Development Studies, Soas University of London
Dr Elisa Van Waeyenberge and Dr Hannah Bargawi Department of Economics, Soas University of London 
Prof Diego Sánchez-Ancochea
 Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford
Dr Jonathan Fisher International Development Department, University of Birmingham
Prof Laura Camfield School of International Development, University of East Anglia
Prof Michael Walls The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London
Prof Alfredo Saad-Filho and Prof Susan Fairley Murray Department of International Development, King’s College London
Prof Philip N Dearden Centre for International Development and Training, University of Wolverhampton 
Prof James Copestake Centre for Development Studies, University of Bath 
Prof Prathivadi Anand Peace studies and international development, University of Bradford 
Prof Dan Brockington and Prof Dorothea Kleine Sheffield Institute for International Development, University of Sheffield
Prof Jean Grugel Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre, University of York
Prof Alastair Ager Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
Dr Namrata Bhattacharya-Mis International development studies, University of Chester
Dr Mei Trueba Global health department, Brighton and Sussex Medical School 
Dr Grace Carswell Head of international development, University of Sussex

See this article on the Guardian website.

View Development Studies Association page.