Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Britain cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

Published:Wednesday | November 25, 2020 | 1:23 PM
Britain's Chancellor Rishi Sunak leaves Downing Street to attend Parliament in London, Wednesday, November 25, 2020. Britain's Treasury chief is set to tell lawmakers later Wednesday that the deterioration in the public finances has been worse than at any time since wartime, but that now is not the time to announce widespread spending cuts and tax rises. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON (AP) — The British government faced fury Wednesday over its decision to ditch its long-standing target for overseas aid in the wake of what it described as the deepest recession in over three centuries.

In a statement to lawmakers, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the target to allocate 0.7% of national income to overseas aid will be cut to 0.5%.

The move is expected to free up four billion pounds for the Conservative government to use elsewhere, money that critics say could be used to save tens of thousands of lives in the poorest parts of the world.

While expressing “great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target,” Sunak said “sticking rigidly” to it “is difficult to justify” to people at a time when the economy has been so battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices,” he said.

Without giving a timetable, he said that the government aims to return to the target first laid out by the Labour government of Tony Blair in 2004.

And he said that even with the new target, the UK will still be the second-biggest aid spender among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.

The decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum, including within Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party.

Liz Sugg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right.”

The UK has for years been considered one of the world’s leaders in development and aid so the government’s decision to lower the target was met with anger and dismay from poverty campaigners.

In a sobering assessment that provided the backdrop to the cut, Sunak sought to balance ongoing support for the economy with a longer-term commitment to heal public finances after a stark deterioration.

“Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” he said.

Sunak said the government’s independent economic forecasters are predicting that the British economy will shrink 11.3% this year, the “largest fall in output for more than 300 years.”

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