We at The Bethany Children’s Trust deplore the UK government’s decision to cut the country’s foreign aid budget. This decision will leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at even greater risk, at a time when food insecurity, multiple disease epidemics and the climate crisis have already made their day-to-day lives precarious. While parliament was debating cuts to foreign aid, violence, disease, food scarcity and natural disaster were putting millions of lives at risk in DR Congo alone.
The reduction from 0.7% to 0.5% of the UK’s gross national income might seem trifling. But in real terms, it represents a drop of around £4.4 billion a year: a catastrophic change to less wealthy countries. For countless people, this will make the difference between being fed and starving; between access to clean water and reliance on a polluted river; between vaccinating their children and leaving them at risk of deadly but preventable illnesses. To give just one example of the impact of the cuts, the programme to eliminate neglected tropical diseases (such as leprosy, trachoma and elephantiasis) has been axed completely. These diseases affect 1.7 billion people worldwide.
As well as being severe, this impact is likely to be protracted. The Prime Minister has pledged to restore the budget to 0.7%, but only when very specific criteria have been met. In view of the UK’s post-COVID economic slump, it might be several years before the country meets these criteria and the government therefore restores the budget.
Furthermore, this decision is short-sighted. Foreign aid does not mean a simple handout. The money given is subject to rigorous reporting and evaluation, to ensure it is used strategically and to maximum effectiveness. It enables less wealthy countries to build, progress and become more independent. The aim is to see them engage with the global community on an equal footing and build mutually-beneficial relationships with many other nations – including the UK.
Perhaps most importantly, the reduction in foreign aid is a broken promise. The government has repeatedly pledged to keep its foreign aid budget at 0.7% of the gross national income and now it has gone back on its word. A broken promise of this kind, with such grave implications for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people, is morally reprehensible.
We therefore add our voices to the many others decrying this decision, and we are committing ourselves to do all we can to change the situation. If you share our sentiments, please join us in praying and consider writing to your MP to urge them to speak out in defence of foreign aid. Our friends at Tearfund have produced a helpful letter template which you can use, as well as some key points for prayer.