The Foreign Secretary has said that cutting the aid budget has been “very difficult” but insisted it was necessary in the face of mounting criticism.
Dominic Raab told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday the need to reduce the budget and find savings was because of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the economy.
He added: “We’ve had to make this extremely difficult decision to reduce and find savings in the aid budget, that’s because of the impact Covid has had, the biggest contraction we’ve seen in the economy for 300 years, a budget deficit double what we saw in the peak of the financial crisis in 2008-2009.
“I’ve found the process of making those savings very difficult but, of course, you’d expect that.”
His comments come in the face of widespread criticism, with the United Nations warning the world’s most vulnerable children will “suffer the consequences” of the Government’s move to reduce Unicef’s UK funding by around 60%.
The UN children’s fund said on Saturday it was “deeply concerned” by the decision as it urged ministers to restore overseas aid funding by the end of the year at the latest.
It is the latest cut to emerge from the Government’s decision to break its manifesto commitment to maintain spending at 0.7% of national income by slashing it to 0.5%.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said cutting overseas aid was “extraordinarily short-sighted”.
She told Ridge: “It doesn’t make any sense and absolutely undermines our moral authority on the world stage.”
Facing widespread criticism, Boris Johnson this week insisted spending would increase when it is “fiscally prudent to do so” as he said the coronavirus pandemic means it is necessary to “economise”.
Unicef urged the Prime Minister to reinstate the 0.7% commitment as it revealed funding for the agency this year would reduce to £16 million, down from £40 million.
“Any cuts to these funds will have serious consequences for children,” the agency said in a statement.
“It is too soon to know the full impact that this and future UK funding cuts will have on Unicef programmes. However, we worry that children living in some of the world’s worst crises and conflicts will suffer the consequences.”
Other funding cuts to have trickled out include an 85% reduction to the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, which it branded “devastating” for women, girls and their families around the world.
A leaked memo has suggested that the UK will slash bilateral funding for overseas water, sanitation and hygiene projects by more than 80% – a move WaterAid described as “savage”.
And a report by media outlet Devex said ministers are planning to reduce funding for polio eradication by 95%.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.
“We will still spend more than £10 billion this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health.
“We are working with suppliers and partners on what this means for individual programmes.”