Responding to the cuts in UK aid

What has been the recent level of the aid budget? And how and when was it cut?

In 2015, the UK Government passed legislation committing the country to allocating 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to aid. Reaching 0.7% of Gross National Product (GNP) had been a target set by a UN resolution in 1970; as of 2019, five countries had achieved it: Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK, with Germany and the Netherlands the next closest, at 0.61% and 0.59% respectively.(1)

Committing to aid at this level has made the UK a leader in development. It has been the third largest donor (behind the US and Germany) in absolute terms. And, while there have been conflicts about the nature of certain aid projects,  the UK has been responsible for significant achievements through both its bilateral aid and the donations it has made through multilateral institutions. Tearfund recently noted:

“More than 11.3 million children have been given access to education … UK aid has also provided vaccinations to more than 67 million children in the last five years alone, protecting them against preventable diseases. The money has also helped 12 million people have access to clean, sustainable energy … Life-saving support and assistance has also been given to communities devastated by natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods.”

Because the amount of aid is linked to GNI, it would inevitably have fallen given the contracting in the UK economy in 2020. But in addition, in November of last year the UK Government announced that, in response to the fiscal issues caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, it would “temporarily” – though without any definition of timescales –  reduce the aid budget further, by moving from the legally binding commitment of 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%. Writing in the Financial Times, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab,  expressed “regret” for the decision, but did not state when the target would be reactivated, commenting simply that it would be “as soon as the fiscal situation allows.” He noted that the UK was still one of the largest donors in the G7 in terms of percentage of GNI and that reaching the 0.7% target was something done only relatively recently.

What concerns were raised at the time?

There were widespread concerns about the fact that this was the breaking of a promise, a derogation from a legal obligation and from a manifesto commitment, and that the cuts were coming at a time when the aid in question was desperately by countries and communities that had themselves been battered by the pandemic.

The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote: “The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, insists we are still giving lots. Perhaps, but to those whose projects are cut off — and to our reputation as trustworthy — that is not the point.” He cited a host of reasons for maintaining foreign aid. Some were moral, focused on the importance of keeping promises to the poorest and alleviating suffering. Some were political, relating to UK aid’s contribution to a rules-based order. And some were self-interested: at a time where Britain is embarking on a renegotiation of its global relationships, it needs stability for trade and development, recognition as a reliable partner, and the ability to tackle with others the global issues that face us all.

The Sustainable Development Minister resigned in protest, writing:

“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. Given the link between our development spend and the health of our economy. the economic downturn has already led to significant cuts this year and I do not believe we should reduce our support further at a time of unprecedented global crises…”

“Our support and leadership on development,” she continued, “has saved and changed millions of lives. It has also been firmly in our national interest as we tackle global issues, such as the pandemic, climate change and conflict. Cutting UK aid risks undermining your efforts to promote a Global Britain and will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right. I cannot support or defend this decision.”

How are the cuts affecting countries suffering from conflict and hunger

Four months in, what is the impact of the cuts on some of the countries with the greatest humanitarian needs? We can take as examples two countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo have continued to escalate over the past year. A recent UN report stated that one third of the population – 27 million people – was suffering from high acute food insecurity with 7 million of those suffering from emergency levels of hunger. The causes include both “the slump in DRC’s economy and the socio-economic impact of COVID-19” and conflict, especially in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu and Tanganyika, and the central region of the Kasais.

Such numbers are almost too big to grasp – but each of those millions of people is precious, made in the image and likeness of God. Some of them are young children, for whom malnutrition in the early years may lead to stunting, hindering their ability to reach their full potential.

In the long term, development and security are key. In the short term, getting assistance – especially to those areas where there are large numbers of people displaced by conflict, with no source of food – is vital. As we were writing, MSF indicated that there were 26,000 displaced people living in huts around Boga; news came through of 21,000 displaced by an outbreak of violence in Kasai; colleagues in other areas speak of thousands of displaced families for whom they are trying to provide shelter, food, medical treatment, psycho-social and spiritual care.

Against this background, it has been rumoured that the UK aid budget for the DRC will be cut by 60%  this year, from roughly £180 million to £72 million. Such cuts would be in line with what the One Campaign’s analysis suggested would be the consequence of the overall reduction in aid.

Nineteen agencies working in the country have united to ask the Government to reconsider, stating: “As the second largest aid provider to the DRC, any cut to the UK aid budget will be a hammer blow to a country now facing multiple crises. But if the reports of a 60 percent cut are to be believed, this could mean entire communities lose access to life-saving humanitarian aid. The human cost of this decision would be devastating. We implore the UK Government to rethink this disastrous decision”  The Guardian quotes Benjamin Viénot, country director for Action Against Hunger, as saying: “I have never seen such malnutrition need as here. We are treating children with complications such as diarrhoea, malaria or eye disease. They cannot eat by themselves so they need therapeutic milk or sometimes a tube from their mouth to their stomach. It is very clear what will happen if these cuts happen. We will only have 80 of the planned 210 health centres. That is 50,000 children’s lives not saved. I have a very great respect for the Foreign Office, but I am not playing games about the consequences of these cuts.”


The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen is one of the world’s most severe. This past week, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock delivered a briefing to the Security Council which was clear about his frustration with the situation – and the relative lack of international response.

“The situation in Yemen – already the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” he began, “is still getting even worse.” COVID had reappeared; health workers were getting ill; hospitals lacked space and supplies to treat people who came to them; vaccines had arrived, thanks to COVAX, but only 360,000 doses, far from sufficient to contain the latest wave.

“This second wave,” he added, ” is coming at a time when large-scale famine is still bearing down on the country. Tens of thousands of people are already starving to death, with another 5 million just a step behind them.”

“To stop this unfolding catastrophe,” he stated, “we urgently need action on the five points I brief you on every month: protection of civilians; humanitarian access; funding; support for the economy; and progress towards peace.”

Some of these issues are primarily under the control of the warring parties in the country and region. But, he added:

“On funding for the aid operation … more money for the UN response plan is the fastest, most efficient way to save millions of lives. Right now, agencies are able to help only about 9 million people a month. That’s down from nearly 14 million a year ago, and that’s essentially because of the funding cuts. As you know, on 1 March, we got promises of $1.7 billion at the pledging conference. That is, as you know, less than half of what we need. Of the pledges that were made, about half have been paid. So what that means is that today, the response plan is less than 25 per cent funded. So again, as I have said many times before, without more funding, millions of Yemenis will be staring down a death sentence before the year reaches its close”

Part of that shortfall came because at the March pledging conference, the UK announced it was cutting its aid to Yemen by 60%.

The decision to make cuts to Yemen’s aid has occasioned widespread condemnation. Andrew Mitchell, MP, a former Conservative Secretary of State for DfID, said it was “unconscionable” that “the fifth richest country in the world is cutting support by more than half to one of the poorest countries in the world during a global pandemic.” Calling it a “harbinger of terrible cuts to come,” he added “Everyone in this house knows that the cut to the 0.7 is not a result of tough choices, it is a strategic mistake with deadly consequences.”  On Tuesday, 20 April, the International Development Select Committee has scheduled a hearing to investigate the matter. An open letter from 101 charities commented: “”History will not judge this nation kindly if the government chooses to step away from the people in Yemen and thus destroy the UK’s global reputation as a country that steps up to help those most in need”

How can we pray?

Tearfund suggests the following prayer points on aid:

  • Pray that the government will have compassion on people living in poverty around the world and restore spending to previous levels quickly.
  • Ask for the UK government to look for opportunities to reverse the decision, and be transparent about how the remaining aid budget will be spent and what will be cut.
  • Keep in your prayers people living in poverty for whom this decision will impact the most. Pray for their protection, and for help to reach them so they are able to overcome poverty.

In addition to praying generally, you might wish to pray quite specifically for your MP, and for a particular country. If you’re interested in praying for the countries we’ve mentioned, the Congo Church Association suggests prayers:

  • ·for the authorities to bring an end to this cycle of violence and atrocities, impacting every sphere of life
  • for peace so that people may return home and rebuild their lives
  • for church leaders, pastors, lay workers and Mothers’ Union members as they lead churches and reach out to their communities with compassion, care and the Good News of Jesus Christ.
  • for provision of care, food, shelter, and God’s blessing on the churches’ response

What can we do?

For the weekend of 6 June:

Ring your MP or write them to express your support for an amendment which would reinstate the 0.7% commitment.

You can use online forms from the Joint Public Issues Team or  Global Justice Now, or, use this blogpost and the CTBI briefing to compose your own letter (something you write yourself is always the most effective). And we’d be really grateful if you could let us know if you do it.


(1) Actual percentages: Luxembourg (1.03%) Norway (1.03%), Sweden (0.96%), Denmark (0.72%) and the UK (0.7%). All data from OECD: