Britain’s Aid Crisis

James Denselow
James Denselow

This week’s G7 summit has more political focus and expectations around it than many of its predecessors. Perhaps this is partly down to the fact that leaders will be meeting in person following a period where virtual meetings became the norm and partly because the USA has a President who is inclined to support rather than rage against multilateral organisations. It is also down to the critical crossroads that the world finds itself in as the leaders from the richest seven countries sit down to parley. Aid Crisis

It is of course a cliché to describe any moment in global history as a crossroads or one of critical importance, yet it is fair to put in perspective that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic like one not seen for generations that may have killed over 8 million people and forced the normal workings of the planet to scramble to adapt.

Behind the figures of death and hospitalisations are the vast economic costs from the international all the way down to the individuals affected. Global labour income is estimated to have declined by 10.7 per cent, or US$ 3.5 trillion, in the first three quarters of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. In countries already wracked by protracted conflict or economic crisis have simply found that their suffering has accelerated. Other countries that were struggling to cope with the increasing threats of climate change found that Covid made getting support that much harder.

In Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region and in the country’s north, famine is imminent the U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, warned last month. Lowcock said the economy has been destroyed along with businesses, crops and farms and there are no banking or telecommunications services. “People need to wake up,” Lowcock said. “The international community needs to really step up, including through the provision of money.”

Yet in the Covid-era in rich, developed countries the need to sustain their economies through lock downs has come at vast cost and whilst humanitarian need goes up the ability to meet it through funding is struggling to keep pace. In 2021, 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection. This number has risen to 1 in 33 people worldwide – a significant increase from 1 in 45 at the launch of the Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, which was already the highest figure in decades. The UN and partner organizations aim to assist 160 million people most in need across 56 countries and will require a total of $35 billion to do so. Aid Crisis

Against this backdrop there has been considerable outrage and pushback against the UK’s decision to slash its commitment to spend 0.7% of its income of international aid in order to save money to support the covid response. As leaders prepare to gather in Cornwall the argument is simple that Britain can’t be a global leader if they are the only G7 member to cut aid. Yet the British papers are full of contrasting editorials urging the government to stand firm by the cut or to U-turn on it. The debate pulls at a string that connects many central debates in UK politics at present; from what does post-Brexit Britain look like to discussions as to populism and nationalism in the modern age.

Despite Boris Johnson’s administration having a comfortable majority there has yet to be a vote on the decision to slash aid and Conversative backbenchers are determined to put the decision to parliamentary representatives to take proper ownership of it. Having the UK’s isolated stance on cutting aid at a time the world arguably needs it most just before it hosts a major summit is not a good look and leaders of push for 0.7% to be restored are confident that they have the numbers to put the UK back on track and restore the £4 billion that have been taken away from crises from Yemen to Syria, to Mali to Sudan and beyond.

Interestingly one of the key questions asked by the aid critics – the ‘how will you fund restoring the commitment? – could be answered by another aspect of the G7 agenda. If world leaders do manage to agree improved ways of taxing multinational companies and a global minimum corporate tax rate, then the windfall could easily plug a gap caused by the aid cut. Whilst there are strategic questions to be answered as to the future of aid, there can be little doubt that balancing the books on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable is not the choice of a moral nation in the modern age. Aid Crisis

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James Denselow,

by: James Denselow