The UK's vital work on international development is a source of immense pride. The UK was for many years the only G7 country to spend the UN recommended target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA), and since 2015, the only country to guarantee this in law. I was elected in 2019 upon the pledge to "proudly maintain" this commitment.
As such, I was very disheartened when I learned in 2020 of the Government's intention to renege upon this commitment, albeit temporarily. Especially so, given that only a few months earlier, in June, the Prime Minister reaffirmed the UK's commitment to the target when the merger between the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was announced; a merger which promised to put UK ODA at the heart of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the UK's foreign policy.
I appreciate the trying economic situation the UK finds itself in domestically, because of the pandemic, and why the Government and many across the House feel that this necessitates cutting back on our development commitments overseas – but I do not agree. The amount saved by cutting aid spending to 0.5 per cent of GNI is a mere drop in ocean compared with what the Government is currently borrowing and will do little to alleviate the current domestic economic crisis.
Indeed, the cut will make little difference to those of us lucky enough to reside in the UK, but it will have a massive impact on the world's most vulnerable people – be it the millions of children at risk of famine or women without access to contraception – for whom the UK's aid efforts were hitherto a source of great hope, and who now stand to lose out. The ODA allocations for 2021/22, with bilateral ODA to some of the world's worst humanitarian crises cut by half in most cases, show just how devastating these cuts are.
The pandemic, which risks erasing decades of global progress, makes it more essential than ever for the UK to step up, not back. In cutting back on our ODA commitments as other nations (such as France and Germany) increase theirs, the UK is steadily relinquishing its hitherto widely applauded global leadership on international development.