Rishi Sunak has been told his decision to axe the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas development will cause “100,000 preventable deaths”.
The chancellor announced on Wednesday the commitment would be cut to to 0.5% from next year.
His decision has already been criticised by MPs, aid groups and as “shameful and wrong” by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Sunak sad: “During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritise our limited resources on jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people.”
The Conservative 2019 general election manifesto promised: “We will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development, and do more to help countries receiving aid become self-sufficient.”
Speaking in the Commons as he unveiled his Spending Review, Sunak added: “At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices.”
It means aid spending will be £10bn in 2021, roughly £4bn less than would have been the case had the 0.7% commitment been kept.
The chancellor used his speech to announce a new £4 billion “levelling up” fund to finance local infrastructure improvement projects.
Boris Johnson has already closed down the Department for International Development (Dfid) and merged it with the Foreign Office to create the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Andrew Mitchell, a former Conservative international development secretary, sad the move would cause “100,000 preventable deaths” mainly among children.
“None of us in this House will be able to look our children in the eye and claim we did not know what we were voting for,” he told MPs.
Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary who lost out to Johnson in the 2019 Tory leadership contest, warned a cut in aid spending would send the “wrong signal out to the world about our values as a country”.
“We spent a decade wining the argument,” he said. “Even a temporary cut will create an enormous clamour of people who will say we should not go back it.”
Sarah Champion, the Labour chair of the Commons international development committee, said it was “devastating news for the poorest people in the world”.
British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said he was “urgently seeking assurances” that the cut would be temporary.
“A swift return to our 0.7% commitment in 2022 and beyond is imperative if we are to maintain our reputation and aspiration to be a country that is open, outward-looking and confident on the world stage,” he said.
“Right now, as we face the biggest health emergency of our lifetime, we must reassure our international partners that funding for humanitarian assistance will be protected.”
Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, also joined calls urging the government not to cut aid.