Overseas aid: Osborne takes £640m from world’s poorest
I have speculated before about how the Government might ditch its commitment to spend the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas aid. And about how they have already reduced the amount that would have been spent on overseas aid under the plans of the previous Government. Today’s Autumn Statement managed the neat trick of cutting overseas aid expenditure and maintaining the commitment at the same time – because as the economy falters, a percentage target means less hard cash.
Labour planned to raise overseas aid year by year over four financial years towards the 0.7% target – up from just under £8bn to slightly over £11bn. The first sleight of hand perpetrated by the coalition was to abandon the gradual increase and freeze aid at 0.56%, the level reached by the last government, with a promise to leap to 0.7% in the final year. That in itself took £2.2bn out of overseas aid.
Today they took at least another £0.64bn, bringing the total cut in overseas aid over the first four years of the coalition to £2.84bn. The Labour Campaign for International Development, to whom I am indebted for the data in this piece, said: “No longer can they claim they are not balancing the books on the back of the world’s poorest after today.”
But of course, there could be worse to come, when in next year’s Autumn Statement George Osborne will need to decide whether to increase overseas aid spending by £3bn at a stroke. Hopefully the economy will recover between now and then (which would mean the increase would need to be even bigger). But if, as the OECD predicted on Monday, the economy continues to flatline or worse, what’s the betting he will cry some crocodile tears about not having the economic space to meet the coalition’s pledge before dashing the hopes of poor people around the world?