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LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Catholic international aid agencies in the UK say the British government’s announcement that it wouldn’t restore the overseas aid budget target to 0.7 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) is disappointing.
British Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced on Thursday that foreign aid would remain at 0.5 percent until April 2028, despite the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto pledge to have it at 0.7 percent, blaming a “significant shock to the public finances.”
The UK government first pledged to spend 0.7 percent of GNI on foreign aid in 1970.
In November 2020, the government of then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would drop this commitment to 0.5 percent of GNI due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cutting billions from the international aid budget.
“We remain fully committed to the target and the plans I have set out today assume that ODA [Official Development Assistance] spending will remain around 0.5 percent for the forecast period.”
In a statement, CAFOD, the overseas aid agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said that reducing overseas aid spending will do nothing to address global injustice.
“It also represents the UK breaking its promise and will adversely impact the UK’s soft power, at a time when we need to be building closer relationships with partners around the world,” the statement said.
CAFOD director Christine Allen admitted it is difficult times for everyone, “which means difficult decisions must be made.”
“But the answer cannot be to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable. The UK government is spending just half on aid overseas compared to their previous promises, yet the number of global crises continues to rise,” she said.
Allen said prioritizing spending in the UK, the country is “just robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
“This approach fails to tackle the root causes of global injustice – which contributes to migration – and it’s a mistake we will pay for further down the line. The UK can and must do better,” she said.
The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund – the official relief and development agency of the Catholic Church in Scotland – said it was “deeply disappointed” at the chancellor’s announcement.
SCIAF’s Chief Executive Alistair Dutton said he was “very concerned about the devastating consequences this will have for the world’s poorest people and communities with whom we work.”
“However, I understand that the government is in an incredibly difficult economic position and is having to make some very uncomfortable choices. It is crucial that development spending does not fall below 0.5 percent and that Official Development Assistance (ODA) rules are not changed or relaxed to include other costs,” he said.
“We know that aid works. We have witnessed the incredible impact of Government aid spending through five UK Aid Match projects, including £1.2 million ($1.4 million) of funding to improve the lives of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In just one year, the project has supported over 2,300 survivors and their families to access medical care, psychological and legal support, and financial services,” Dutton added.
“We are very grateful for the generosity and loyalty of SCIAF supporters throughout Scotland, despite the difficult times we’re living through. We hope the Government’s aid budget will soon reflect their commitment, with the reinstatement of the 0.7 percent spending target at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.
Hunt’s budget also included £25 billion ($30 billion) in tax hikes, moving the share of national income taken by taxes to its highest level since World War II.
The combination of high inflation – predicted to be 9.1 percent for 2022, largely driven by soaring energy costs from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and stagnating salaries means a 7 percent decline in UK living standards over the next two years, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the government’s fiscal watchdog.
The emergency budget largely postponed public spending cuts until 2025 – after the next national election — and promised more money for key areas including education and health. Hunt also included help for British society’s most vulnerable, raising pensions and welfare benefits in line with inflation and boosting the minimum wage by 9.7 percent.
But millions of people in the U.K. face higher energy bills in the spring, when the government plans to cut back on support that has capped the average household’s utility bill at £2,500 ($3,000) a year – more than double what it was a year ago. Bills are expected to increase to £3,000 ($3,575) a year on average.
This article incorporated material from the Associated Press.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome