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Ministers have fuelled speculation of a temporary cut in the foreign aid budget, saying it was “legitimate” to look for savings at a time when the public finances are under “huge strain”. The warning comes amid reports that plans are being drawn up to pare back the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of national income on overseas aid to 0.5 percent in next week’s spending review. But Guardian columnist Owen Jones insisted foreign aid must not be cut.
Speaking on the Jeremy Vine show, he said: “We should look after people abroad!”
But Ms Akua interjected: “We should invest in our own country first.”
Downing Street said that the Government remained committed to supporting the world’s poorest people but acknowledged that officials were looking at how the aid budget was spent.
More to follow…
During a briefing for journalists, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman drew attention to the fact that the legislation enshrining the 0.7% target in UK law explicitly acknowledged it might not always be met.
“In the International Development Act there may be circumstances in which the Government is not able to meet the 0.7 percent commitment,” the spokesman said.
“If that happens the secretary of state is required under the act to lay a statement in Parliament explaining why the target has not been met.
“The Government is committed to supporting international development and helping the world’s poorest people but we are looking at how the aid budget is spent to ensure it serves the UK’s priorities and represents value for money.”
Earlier, during a round of broadcast interviews, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick also refused to to rule out a temporary reduction – even though last year’s Conservative general election manifesto committed the Government to maintaining the 0.7 percent target.
“It is legitimate to consider where savings can be made when public finances are under huge strain,” he said.
The UK has previously said it would be cutting its global aid budget by £2.9 billion this year due to the economic hit of the coronavirus crisis, but that the 0.7 percent commitment towards international development would still be met.
The spending on Official Development Assistance was set to be £15.8 billion this year before the Covid-19 crisis emerged.
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According to The Times, Boris Johnson wants any cut to the 0.7 percent target – first adopted by the Tories under David Cameron as a signal of the way the party had changed – to last no longer than a year.
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) minister James Cleverly, speaking to MPs on the International Development Committee on Tuesday, described the reports as “speculation”.
Asked specifically about whether any cuts might potentially impact the department’s safeguarding commitments – during a session looking at sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector – he said he could not make guarantees, but insisted it would remain a “priority” area.
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