Thank you for contacting me about UK spending on foreign aid, otherwise known as Official Development Assistance (ODA).
This country has been and always will be open and outward-looking, leading in solving the world's toughest problems and striving to be a force for good in the world. Whether it is stepping up to support desperate Syrians and Yemenis in conflict zones, leading the fight against Ebola and Malaria, or supporting millions of children to gain a decent education.
Nevertheless, we must be honest about where we are. The UK is currently experiencing its worst economic contraction in 300 years because of the pandemic, with a budget deficit double that caused by the 2008 financial crisis. At this time of unprecedented crisis, tough choices must be made, which is why the Chancellor announced a temporary reduction in the UK’s ODA budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of the UK's Gross National Income (GNI).
I am encouraged that the UK will be spending more than £10 billion in 2021 on its seven ODA priorities, as set out by the Foreign Secretary – climate change and biodiversity; global health security, including Covid-19; girls' education; responding to humanitarian crises, such as those in Yemen and Syria; science and technology; resolving conflicts and defending open societies, including human rights; and promoting trade.
As one of the most generous aid donors in the G7, with a commitment considerably higher than the OECD average, and coupled with our expertise and convening power, the UK remains a development superpower.
The UK is, for example, the biggest bilateral donor to the Global Partnership for Education, the largest fund in the world dedicated to improving education in developing countries; and the World Bank International Development Association, which works to accelerate progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Likewise, our contribution to the COVAX AMC is amongst the largest, and will contribute to the supply of at least 1.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines in 2021, already reaching over 120 countries.
I have been assured that the UK will return to 0.7 per cent as soon as the fiscal situation allows.
We should note too that aid is not the only way to enable the world's poor to lift themselves out of poverty. Professor Syed Kamall has made the point very effectively:
“During these difficult times, it is understandable that foreign aid spending should be reviewed and determined by affordability and effectiveness rather than an arbitrary target.
“Most would agree that aid plays an important role in short-term disaster relief, but focusing aid in a more direct way, and encouraging more non-state assistance, would be far preferable to the existing top-down approach.
“Wasteful schemes, such as the £44.6m of taxpayers’ money spent in recent years on ‘lifestyle’ projects, including anti-obesity programmes in India, regrettably give the whole concept of foreign aid a bad name.
“We also shouldn’t forget other ways to help the world’s poor, such as lowering trade barriers to entrepreneurs from less developed countries, which enables them to create jobs and prosperity in their local communities."
I would add that I am struck by the fact that UK taxpayer-funded aid is going to countries which have space and nuclear weapons programmes.
The pausing of the policy of always spending 0.7% of GNI on aid affords an opportunity for additional scrutiny of the ways in which ODA is spent and the effectiveness of the programmes to which it goes.
I appreciate your concerns about the specific impact of the temporary aid budget reduction on funding for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). Again, the impact of the global pandemic on the UK economy has forced the Government to take tough decisions. I can assure you that Ministers are aware of the points you have raised.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP