Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Archbishop of Canterbury have joined forces to condemn cuts to the UK’s Aid budget, saying that the move will do “real damage” to Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and other countries in crisis.
The decision has also been attacked by Catholic aid agencies, who pointed out that in the USA, President Biden has asked Congress to increase aid spending, saying it was crucial the world’s wealthiest nations acted to help the poorest as they struggled to come to terms with the impact of Covid-19.
The UK government has said it would not meet the 0.7 per cent target in the coming financial year and spending will be cut to 0.5 per cent of national income – a move that would save the UK about £4bn a year.
But Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Justin Welby hit out at the decision in a joint article carried by The Evening Standard, saying that “balancing the books during a pandemic on the backs of the world’s poorest is not acceptable”.
They stress that “we must not walk by on the other side”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has described the cut as a ‘temporary’ measure to cope with the deficit caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the 0.7 per cent target would return when finances allowed.
However, some MPs fear that the reduction could be permanent.
“Saying the Government will only do this ‘when the fiscal situation allows’ is deeply worrying, suggesting that it will act in contravention of its legally binding target,” the Church leaders said.
“This promise, repeatedly made even during the pandemic, has been broken and must be put right.”
The 0.7 per cent baseline for Britain’s aid budget is enshrined in law by the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act of 2015.
Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Welby pointed out that one of the most important lessons Covid-19 has taught society is that “we depend on each other around the world”.
“Our freedoms, our safety, our health and that of our families, and of course our faith: these are all very precious. We have each benefited recently from coronavirus vaccinations. How fortunate we are.
“And how much we long for all our sisters and brothers, wherever they are and whatever they believe, to know the same security. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is safe until we are all safe. Our lives are connected.
“Of course, our traditions and scriptures have taught us this for centuries. We must not walk by on the other side, and love must prevail over fear when it comes to our global neighbours,” they said.
Citing Britain’s role in the COP26 UN climate negotiations in November, the Church leaders also stressed that leadership on the climate crisis “requires leadership on international development”.
The clerics’ call comes as President Biden has decided the USA should take the opposite approach to the UK and increase foreign aid spending. Supporters say not only is it the morally right thing to do, but that it would increase US influence around the world at a time of fracturing relationships between many nations.