Labour and the Archbishop of Canterbury have intensified calls for the government to reverse its move to slash foreign aid, saying a report that a group of philanthropists will help plug the gap underlines the harm caused by the decision.
The Sunday Times says philanthropists including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will today pledge more than £100 million to a one-year plan to partially replace the cuts in the UK’s aid budget, with the funding to target projects tackling preventable diseases and family planning.
The government has announced a reduction in foreign aid from 0.7 per cent of national income – which is enshrined in law – to 0.5 per cent, a change equating to a £4 billion decrease.
The Sunday Times reported the move by the consortium of charities, which also includes the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, to donate to projects previously funded by Britain was aimed at embarrassing prime minister Boris Johnson.
As a group of some 50 Tory MPs – including former PM Theresa May – continues to demand a parliamentary vote on the government’s decision, Labour’s shadow international development secretary Preet Kaur Gill said the philanthropists’ decision to step in had embarrassed the UK.
“This is a shameful moment for this Conservative government,” Ms Gill said in a statement.
“As low income countries continue to battle against the pandemic, this contribution to try and plug some of the gap left by the government’s slashing of life saving aid programmes is welcome, but it will only be able to prevent the very worst of the damage caused.
“The government’s decision to cut the aid budget, against the wishes of Parliament, has already cost lives and they must reverse it or put to a vote as soon as possible.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, applauded the philanthropists’ move, but said he was still praying for the Government to restore its promises on aid.
“These diseases cause unimaginable suffering and entirely preventable deaths,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
“This emergency funding is welcome and desperately needed, but I continue to pray for the restoration of our promise to those living in extreme poverty around the world: which was to love them as our neighbour through our commitment to the 0.7 per cent aid spending target.”
Former musician and Live Aid organiser Sir Bob Geldof said it was “disgraceful” private benefactors were needed to atone for the government’s “abandonment” of those requiring the aid.
“How disgraceful that in order to prevent the fatal consequences of Boris Johnson’s broken word, private individuals need to fill the fatal void of an illegal abandonment of the weakest of the world to their awful, inevitable fate,” Sir Bob said.
The Telegraph reported the temporary funding for neglected tropical diseases will support countries most affected by the cuts, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The charities told the paper the cuts put at risk sexual reproductive health services and supplies, including contraceptives, and said this undermined the government’s stated goals of helping keep girls in school.
Baroness Sugg, who resigned as a Foreign Office minister in protest at the cuts, added the UK’s funding withdrawal for contraception would have led to unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, adding the government “must return to its promise next year to avoid permanently losing the progress made thanks to the generosity of British taxpayers”.
Kate Hampton, chief executive officer of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, told the paper: “We are stepping in so that when the government returns to its commitments next year as promised, the progress made will not have been lost.”