The 0.7% Cut: Callous and Cynical – Liberal Article
The government’s decision to renege on its commitment to spending 0.7% of its GDP on international aid is a disaster. The cut harms not only for the world’s least fortunate but Britain’s own interest. Once again, the government has valued domestic politics over effective policy. And once again, such a judgement will create untold suffering.
According to David Cameron’s development secretary – Andrew Mitchell – the decision will cause “100,000 preventable deaths” worldwide. It is unclear how he reached this exact figure. But it is beyond doubt that this slashing of the budget will have a considerable effect on desperately disadvantaged communities around the world. The compassionate argument against this cut is more than clear. But quite apart from the moral implications of such a decision, the policy implications are nothing but negative for the government.
Last week, in response to Kieran Burt’s article on military spending, I argued that there is a severe lack of vision or coherence in the foreign policy of the Johnson regime. This decision only serves to underline that point. In the midst of what is a crucial moment for Britain’s influence globally, the decision to gut the aid budget completely undermines the ‘Global Britain’ image that the government are so keen on.
Aid is one of the chief mechanisms by which the UK can maintain global influence. The developing world should be a central focus of the post-Brexit economic strategy. Emerging markets have undergone rapid growth over the past few years, a trend which will surely continue in the future. In regions like Africa, whose GDP will reach over $3 trillion in the next few years, taking a step back from aid programmes will only harm future relationships.
The work of DfID and our previously staunch faithfulness to the 0.7% commitment has rightly been an immense source of pride for Britain. Some pundits have gone as far as to say that this work has made the UK a ‘development superpower’. Abandoning what is perhaps one of the last bastions of British influence around the world does nothing to “end the era of retreat” that the Prime Minister has despaired over.
What is perhaps most frustrating, however, is that the decision is utterly pointless. Spurred on by misguided and frankly corrosive political rhetoric about government ‘credit cards’ reaching their limits; this cut is nothing more than a bone to throw to the deficit hounds in the Conservative base.
There is no question that debt figures will be astronomical. However, what alarmists fail to grasp is that government debt is totally different from the everyday debt that individuals and businesses seek to avoid. Particularly in this era of rock-bottom interest rates. This is why metaphors about credit cards and overdrafts used by Sunak and others are so damaging; they create a sense of fear about fiscal and monetary measures that are not only healthy but absolutely necessary in the current climate.
Sunak’s justification for the 0.7% cut, which outlined the need to “prioritise our limited resources on jobs and public services” is almost totally nonsensical. This false dichotomy, which given his economic pedigree, one would assume Sunak has created knowingly, is far from harmless. It will come at the price of people’s lives.
This is not the first time that this sort of rhetoric has damaged not only the economy but the lives of those most vulnerable. In the early 2010s, the UK’s poorest citizens suffered at the hands of brutal and unnecessary austerity politics; in the early 2020s, it is instead the world’s poorest citizens who will bear the burden of the Conservative Party’s misguided economic scaremongering.
And even if taking deficit-reducing measures were necessary at this moment, does the government really believe that a £4 billion cut will even make a dent in the context of enormous government spending? Fiscally, the move is inconsequential. The only justification for targeting aid is that it is one of the only sectors that the government an get away with cutting.
Aid spending should always be under intense scrutiny. Scholars have outlined flaws in the international aid regime and the unintentional effects of pursuing the elusive goal of ‘development’. Journalists and politicians have likewise questioned a number of UK government programmes which on their face do not seem to be in the best interests of the least advantaged.
But the government is not concerned with re-tooling our existing aid programme or looking at the best ways to maximise its utility. The development budget has been treated as nothing more than a sacrificial lamb. All at the expense of both the world’s most vulnerable and Britain’s global prestige. Whatever the bluster the government may defend themselves with, this decision was made with only one benefactor in mind; the Conservative party.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Anthony Morris
Point of Information
All feeling, no sense — A Conservative Response
(As a quick aside, I am singling out developmental not emergency aid. The previously existing budget concerned the former, not the latter).
This article suffers from a terminal issue: faulty assumptions. It assumes that (a) foreign aid works and (b) that our 0.7% is a meaningful contribution.
Let me be clear, developmental aid is a sham. It does not, in any meaningful way, provide a way out of poverty for developing countries.
Therefore, Anthony’s idea about the creation of “untold suffering” is pure fabrication. A figment of imagination, borne from the rhetoric of ‘western saviourism’. Dependence on handouts will not build prosperous nations out of developing ones; ask the President of Ghana himself. I wish to see developing countries thrive very much. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that we will be the cause.
To touch on the economic point, I also disagree that stepping back from aid means stepping back from opportunities of trade. Africa — a continent of incalculable value, that has so far gone largely untapped (for the benefit of Africans, at least) — is absolutely a key investment region for Britain going forward. The withdrawal of the 0.7% concerns aid, not investment.
Lastly, the comparison between the military and DfID is a bad one. One spends money at home, one spends money abroad. With the post-COVID recoup that will hammer basically everyone, Westminster cannot be seen to be prioritising citizens that are not their own. Military expenditure will employ Britons, foreign aid will not.
I love our democracy, do not mistake me. But one of democracy’s perennial issues is that politicians are forever on a short clock; never can long-term strategy prevail, when you’re constantly thinking about the ‘optics’ of reelection.
Frankly, I agree with Sunak. It is difficult to justify money flowing overseas. Especially whilst we deal with crises at home in the form of: health, housing, food, education, and the economy, to name but five.
Spending is more than likely going back to 0.7% once the books are balanced. This whole faux-outrage seems nothing more than bluster.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
The lack of compassion is unacceptable – A Labour Response
“Callous and cynical” perfectly sums up this recent cut to international aid funding. I applaud Anthony for addressing this decision with obvious passion and zeal. He doesn’t hold back which is beneficial for an issue that is typically permeated with political agendas and motives.
It is no secret that the UK is in a fragile state because of the unprecedented effects of the pandemic. People are losing jobs and businesses are struggling – I empathise with this. But international aid funding should not be compromised as a result, as Anthony alludes to. Action Aid expresses this impeccably: “we do not need to choose between helping the world’s poorest or spending money at home”.
I agree that the government have made this decision purely because they can get away with it. I am sure a lot of people would have been oblivious of this decision if it wasn’t for articles like this one. If it were a decision that predominantly affected the Southern middle-class population of the UK however, people would be very quick to condemn it. Unfortunately, because it doesn’t directly affect the majority of the UK population, people don’t care.
For me, the moral implications are enough of a reason to condemn the government’s cut. I don’t think we truly appreciate how much international aid helps those struggling in disadvantaged communities globally. It provides short term necessities following natural disasters, helps prevent further marginalisation of women, and can ultimately save lives. How can we deny these opportunities?
The government’s evident lack of compassion for international communities is so unacceptable. We should be condemning their decision instanter, regardless of its direct impact, or lack thereof, on your everyday life.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo