Cardinal Vincent Nichols has told all MPs that combatting the Covid-19 pandemic is ‘an international endeavour’ as he expressed his concerns about the UK government’s decision to cut UK spending on overseas aid.
In a letter sent to all MPs, the cardinal urges all parties to not step back from the UK’s responsibilities to the world’s most vulnerable people in these trying times.
The government’s announcement marks a U-turn on a Conservative manifesto pledge to protect UK Aid spending, reneging on its legal obligation to spend 0.7 per cent of UK gross national income (GNI) on poorer countries.
It also comes amidst a recent warning from the World Bank that extreme poverty will rise in 2020 for the first time since 1998, with the Covid-19 pandemic expected to push a further 115 million people into that category, undoing decades of progress to reduce poverty and hunger in some of the world’s poorest countries.
In his letter to MPs, Cardinal Nichols explains that in today’s figures a reduction of UK spending on overseas aid from 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent amounts to a cut of around £4 billion in spending on help to the world’s poorest people.
‘A clear measure of a nation’s greatness is the manner in which it responds to the needs of its poorest,’he writes. ‘The same is true for the response to poverty between nations. If we truly wish to be a great nation, then cutting the overseas aid budget is a retrograde step.
‘Promises were made by all parties on aid spending at the last election. In these extraordinarily difficult times, we should not now step back from our responsibilities to the world’s most vulnerable people, especially as combatting the spread of Covid-19 will necessarily mean richer countries supporting poorer ones in purchasing vaccines for their people and helping to roll out mass vaccination programmes.
‘Combatting Covid-19 is an international endeavour and we cannot neglect those countries that benefit from our aid. I hope that compassionate and wise counsel will prevail.’
In his letter, the cardinal also highlights the impact the cut will have on tragedies such as forced mass migration and human trafficking.
‘The great tragedies of forced mass migration and human trafficking must be tackled at their source. Carefully targeted and well managed overseas aid programmes are an essential part of this effort. In the face of these catastrophes, this is no time to reduce the UK’s contribution or effort,’ he writes.
Cardinal Nichols also cites the words of Pope Francis, who in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, wrote: ‘Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet. If we are troubled by the extinction of certain species, we should be all the more troubled that in some parts of our world individuals or peoples are prevented from developing their potential and beauty by poverty or other structural limitations. In the end, this will impoverish us all’. (Fratelli Tutti, 2020, para 137).
Picture: A logistics officer places UK Aid stickers onto cargo pallets containing British aid items.