Church leaders and Christian charities condemn cuts to aid budgets

A Christian Aid worker hands a bag of essential items to a Rohingya refugee in the Cox's Bazar camp, Bangladesh.(Photo: Christian Aid)

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Christian development agencies have lashed out at the Government's decision to slash the overseas aid budget.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday announced a temporary cut to UK aid from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%..

Responding to the reduction, Archbishop Justin Welby said: "The cut in the aid budget - made worse by no set date for restoration - is shameful and wrong.

"It's contrary to numerous Government promises and its manifesto. I join others in urging MPs to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the UK's own reputation and interest." 

The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, said that the UK's economic crisis was not enough to justify cutting overseas aid.

"The 0.7% aid budget has been a sign of national compassion for ages. Letting go of it is a big decision," he said.

"We have an economic crisis on our hands but the answer can't be to withdraw generosity to the poorest on the planet."

Tearfund CEO Nigel Harris said that with the world struggling to recover from Covid-19, it was "more essential than ever" that the UK commits to spending 0.7% of national income on supporting the poor.

"While it's right the Chancellor addresses the needs of people in the UK, we must not forget our global community," he said.

"People living in poverty are already pushed to the brink of survival everyday, this decision by the UK government is a cruel, badly calculated decision and could not have come at a worse time.

"Cutting the aid budget will have dire consequences for many of the people Tearfund works alongside who are suffering the twin horrors of Covid-19 and climate change.

"We are called by Jesus to love our neighbours and care for the vulnerable. Our commitment to 0.7% has enabled the UK to have a world leading role in providing life-saving vaccinations, education, access to clean energy alongside humanitarian support for communities impacted by conflict and climate change.

"The UK is due to host the UN climate talks and G7 Summit next year. How can we be seen as a credible global leader if we cut this vital funding?"

Christian Aid's Director of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns, Patrick Watt, said the cuts would "pile yet more pressure onto the millions of people worldwide who've been pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the global pandemic."

"Cutting the aid budget during a global pandemic is like closing fire stations during a heatwave," he said.

"These are tough times and the Government has tough decisions to make, but balancing the books on the backs of the poor isn't the way to do it.

"The people of this country have a proud tradition of never turning a blind eye to those in need around the world. As the Government prepares to host world leaders at next year's critical G7 and COP26 climate summits, it now has a moral duty to put inequality and injustice in the world's poorest countries at the heart of its agenda."

World Vision CEO Mark Sheard said the cuts set a "dangerous precedent" and risked "underming the UK's global reputation and credibility" ahead of 2021 when it will host the G7, COP26 and Global Education Summit. 

"Difficult spending decisions must be made as we recover from this crisis, but the cuts we choose to make should not be at the cost of lives," he said.

"The most vulnerable will suffer the cost as this dangerous precedent is set. We urge the Government to reverse this decision immediately."

He added that with coronavirus still rampant across the world, aid was "needed now more than ever". 

"None of us are safe until we are all safe," he said. 

"The UK's commitment to ending poverty worldwide has always been something of which we could be rightly proud, but just when global leadership is most needed we are stepping back.

"The Government has today relinquished its right to talk about 'Global Britain' leading the world."

The Very Rev Dr Susan Brown, convener of the Faith Impact Forum of the Church of Scotland, said that reducing the aid budget would "do irreparable harm" to people in poorer countries who are already "braced for the economic shock of the pandemic".

She echoed calls to the Government to reconsider. 

"Cutting this work is short-sighted and tarnishes the UK's international reputation," she said.

"In times of global need, it is those with the broadest shoulders that need to support others.

"International development is not about charity, it is essential to the delivery of the vision of a Global Britain, as foreign aid supports UK priorities.

"Protecting public health, promoting human rights, tackling violence against women, mitigating against climate change.

"Helping to build stable economies and societies will have long term benefits for international peace and security."