Last week's decision to cut the foreign aid budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent is ultimately short-sighted and counter to Britain's interests, argues Adeem Younis.

Foreign aid is mutually beneficial for both donors and recipients. By cutting it, we will only add to Britain's declining soft power around the world. The result will be greater instability, conflict and poverty. All of these things work directly against us and our standing in the world. If anyone should know about the dangers of leaving power vacuums around the world, it should be us.

Voters have a right to expect the manifesto promise of 'proudly maintaining our foreign aid contributions of 0.7 per cent of GDP' to be maintained. Perhaps at the peak of the pandemic there was an excuse to cut this, but as we return to normality, so too must our aid. When Theresa May votes against her own party for the first time in her 25 years, it is clear that this isn't a party political issue. This is simply about what is the right thing to do – and the smart thing to do.

It was only last month, on the pristine beaches of Carbis Bay, that Boris Johnson rubbed shoulders with the leaders of the G7 in an attempt to show the world Britain's 'global face'. It should serve as an embarrassment then that Britain, the 6th largest economy in the world, is the only G7 nation to be reducing their foreign aid commitments during the pandemic.

But what will the impact of this actually be? One of the most worrying impacts will be felt by the health systems that were dependent on British aid. On 7 June, Dominic Raab wrote a letter to the International Development Committee, announcing a list of 102 countries that will no longer receive foreign aid. For some countries, the loss of UK aid could trigger a total catastrophe. Take Gambia, for example. In 2019, Gambia received 55 per cent of its health budget from the UK. Whilst such high levels of donor concentration and dependency itself is a problem, a sudden withdrawal of over half of the country's healthcare budget could cripple the country's critical health infrastructure.

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In the context of a global pandemic, we should know that no-one is safe until everyone is safe. The virus doesn't care about borders; and that's why this is an especially peculiar time to be lowering our foreign aid commitments. Such sudden withdrawals allow the recipient country's no time to wind down aid programmes; such a move could reverse the decades of positive benefits delivered by British aid.

According to Labour leader Kier Starmer, the cuts will mean nearly a million girls losing out on schooling, nearly three million women and girls missing out on clean nutrition, 5.6 million children left unvaccinated, and an estimated 100,000 deaths worldwide. This is the human collateral that will come off the back of last week's vote, and it is truly shameful. We also cannot ignore the more pragmatic loss to Britain's soft power. When we reduce our aid commitments in the world, it is both Russia and China who will be more than happy to step in. Now is not the time to retreat.

What's more, we know that stable, peaceful countries don't produce terrorists; fragile ones do. By reducing our foreign aid so drastically and suddenly, we are playing directly into the hands of terrorist recruiters across the world. It's a potent narrative we are helping them to build; Britain doesn't care about you in your time of need, just look at their foreign aid. After all, how would you feel if you lived in Yemen, the home of one of the worst famines in living memory, if you knew that the British government didn't even perform an impact assessment of a cut of 60 per cent of foreign aid to that country? Global Britain indeed.

And finally, what is democracy if not listening to the will of the people? A new survey has found that 66 per cent of the British public supports foreign aid spending in its current form. This cut, and the implied decision of our government to turn its back on the world's poorest people, is not one that the British people support.

A return to normal for Britain means more than hugs and nightclubs, it means a return to our usual position in the world as one of the most generous nations in it. Boris Johnson says that the level of foreign aid will return to his manifesto promise of 0.7 per cent at the 'first economically sustainable' opportunity. Let's hope so.

 

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