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MPs back cut to overseas aid budget

MPs back cut to overseas aid budget

MPs have voted to back the Government's decision to cut the UK's overseas aid spending to 0.5% of gross national income.

A vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday saw MPs back the reduction in spending by 333 votes to 298 - a majority of 35 votes. The UK had been committed to overseas aid spending of 0.7% - the cut to 0.5% will see a reduction of around £4.4bn worth of assistance around the world.

Despite the Government winning the vote, there was considerable opposition to the spending cut, including from Labour and a total of 24 Conservative MPs. Notably, former Prime Minister Theresa May rebelled against her party's whip for the first time and accused the Government of breaking its promise "to the poorest people in the world".

The 0.7% spending target was enshrined in law by David Cameron in 2015 and was also a feature of the Conservative Party's manifesto for the 2019 General Election. 

In 2016, the UK spent £13.4 billion on overseas aid, in line with its commitment of 0.7% of gross national income. Foreign aid spending supports a range of projects helping the world's poorest populations - money has previously been spent on humanitarian aid, crisis relief and bilateral aid through organisations such as the United Nations.

The reduction in spending comes at a time when millions of people around the world have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and some have argued that aid spending is important now more than ever. When the cut was first announced in November 2020 though, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs that sticking to the 0.7% target would be "difficult to justify" to the British public in light of the economic consequences in the UK of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Baroness Sugg, who was a junior minister serving as the Minister for Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development, resigned from her post in November following the announcement of the cut, saying "I believe it is fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development. This promise should be kept in the tough times as well as the good".

A group of organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Children's Investment Fund Foundation, the ELMA Foundation and Open Society Foundations have announced in recent days that they will provide £93.5m in emergency funding to help keep some projects operational that usually have support from the UK's foreign aid budget.

Following Tuesday's vote in Parliament, Labour's Shadow International Development Secretary said in a tweet, "Today’s vote was an indefinite cut to the aid budget and a blow for the world's poorest. This is not Global Britain. These cuts are not in our national interest and will weaken the Govt ability to keep us safe. They are shortsighted as they are unprincipled".

The Government has said the cut will be temporary, though some have expressed concerns that it may be a long time before aid spending is increased again.

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