The UK, along with 30 other wealthy developed countries, pledged back in 1970 to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on international aid in accordance with the United Nations. However, this was a target rather than a requirement until 2015 when David Cameron enshrined the figure in law as part of an effort to reform the Conservative party and improve its public image. For the first time since 2015, this year the target is not going to be hit with chancellor Rishi Sunak citing a “domestic fiscal year emergency” making the foreign aid spending difficult to justify to the British people” with spending expected to be 0.5% of GNI.
In recent months, the UK government released initial plans over how cuts to international aid, which will amount to over £4bn ($5.7bn), would impact aid projects in the coming year. This has led to over 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) coming together in protest over the move. Additionally, the charity Save the Children described the government as having “lost its moral compass” whilst highlighting worrying figures for girl’s education down to £400m for 2021 ($566m) from £536m ($759m) in 2019. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson claimed the government was looking at where aid represented value for money and serves UK interests.
The first major announcement came in March when the spending to Yemen was declared to be down by almost 60% from £214m ($302.5m) in 2020 to £87m ($123m) in 2021 according to Devex. Yemen is currently considered to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis where a lethal civil war between the Iranian backed Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government has ravaged the country since 2014. Devex also reported that Syria is set to face a cut of 32% to £205m ($290m) which is almost half of the figure in 2019 where over £400m ($565m) was donated. CARE UK’s Syria Resilience Programme is one which will be affected with a fall of 70% expected compared to 2019 figures, which means the number of people receiving aid will be reduced to less than 100,000 when it previously stood at 550,000. Last year the Prime Minister merged the Department for International Development (DfID) with the foreign office with led to criticism from members of his own party, three former Prime Ministers and across the humanitarian sector. According to The Conversation not even senior DfID civil servants knew of the decision until the day Johnson announced the merger in parliament. It was claimed it would bring greater efficiency and coordination in British global policy, but recent aid cuts suggest it may be part of Johnson winding down the projection of soft power.