UK’s foreign aid cuts likely to hinder vaccination and climate change efforts

Former Cabinet minister David Lidington condemns divisive decision

Members of the Royal Navy carry medical supplies on board the amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean at the Naval Base in Gibraltar on September 11, 2017, before leaving to provide humanitarian assistance and vital aid to British Overseas Territories and Commonwealth partners affected by Hurricane Irma. - Britain has pledged £32 million (35 million euros, $42 million) in aid and sent hundreds of troops, supplies and rescue equipment on several flights to the British territories in the Caribbean since September 8, 2017. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

Cuts to the UK’s foreign aid budget could hamper global efforts to tackle coronavirus and climate change, a former government minister said.

David Lidington, once a Conservative MP and Cabinet Office secretary, said Britain’s decision to cut aid expenditure from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of GDP was “deeply regrettable”.

In an online event held by the Institute for Government, a think tank, Mr Lidington said the country’s crisis assistance budget would be “hit hard” by a drop in funding.

Long-term spending commitments would probably lead to spending cuts in discretionary areas, such as vaccination efforts and carbon reduction projects, he said.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 28: Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington speaks at the annual British Chambers of Commerce conference on March 28, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

In November, Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed plans to cut the aid bill to help plug the UK's finances during the pandemic.

“This is going to hit hard at the discretionary spending ... because a lot of aid spending is tied up in long-term commitments that you can’t cut dramatically,” Mr Lidington said.

“So, the burden of the cuts is going to fall on crisis assistance and some scientific programmes.

“A lot of money goes into British research and some of that goes into carbon reduction projects.

“Some of it goes into vaccination efforts being made around the world, so both those objectives – carbon and vaccination – are bound to be harmed by this cut.”

The former minister's comments came as Britain gears up to host the G7 summit in Cornwall, south-west England, in June and the Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November.

Charities and humanitarian groups criticised the aid cut, saying the world’s poorest populations would be hit hardest.

The spending cut went “too far”, Mr Lidington said.

But the UK’s aid contributions remains one of the largest bilateral development programmes in the world, he said.

“I hope that the government will, even at this stage, think again and restore it to 0.7 per cent at the earliest opportunity.”

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