Spending Reviews and budgets are always about priorities, especially when times are hard. This week, the Chancellor chose to remove money from the poorest both here and abroad, whilst massively increasing spending on the military. On many levels, these are the wrong priorities.
Each of these four things costs around £4 and £5 billion a year:
- Keeping the £20 uplift on Universal Credit (£4.6bn)
- Keeping our commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP in International Aid (over £4bn)
- Increasing our military spending (£16.5bn over 4 years)
The Chancellor chose the latter and to increase military spending. He also chose to remove £1000 a year from the current basic rate of Universal Credit, at a time when support is most needed. As our Reset the Debt campaign shows, even with the £20 per week uplift, many families have struggled to survive on Universal Credit this year.
Alongside that, he chose to remove £4bn of support from the world’s poorest countries who are suffering grievously from the impact of Coronavirus.
This flies in the face of our international commitments. We have pledged to spend 0.7% of GDP in overseas development but are cutting it despite growing need.
Conversely, we committed to our NATO allies to spend 2% of GDP on defence yet, even before the £16.5bn rise, we were spending 2.33% of GDP, creating the 4th largest military budget in the world. The UK is the second biggest spender on defence in NATO after the USA.
We acknowledge the Chancellor’s need to be prudent on spending but, earlier this year, aid spending had already been cut by £2.9 billion due to the downturn in our national income. A cut in aid, if necessary at all, should end there. The further cut of over £4 billion represents a serious downgrading of the government’s commitment to collaboration and influence in the sphere of international development. Oddly, it comes at a time when the government wants to demonstrate that the UK is not retreating inward but, rather, aspires to use its influence to be a force for good in the world.
UK aid also supports countries hit by climate change and enables the development of low carbon economies. The UK is hosting a global Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December in advance of its Presidency of the COP26 Summit next year; the biggest international climate meeting since the 2015 Paris Summit. Our aid spending is an important tool in tackling the impact of climate change and adds to our influence in this area.
The World Bank forecasts that as many as 115 million people will be plunged into poverty by the economic downturn brought about by Coronavirus. The announcement of a further cut of £4 billion to international development is indefensible at this time. The cause of ‘Global Britain’ is not served by breaking our promise to the world’s poorest people.
The shift in emphasis – and funding – of Britain’s outward-facing policies away from aid and towards arms is one which is dangerous, unnecessary for security, and setting a bad precedent for the UK’s future engagement with the rest of the world.
This spending review had to make some trade-offs, but as churches we believe any review that leaves the poorest poorer either in the UK or abroad is a review that has made the wrong trade-offs. We hope that, as the spending review translates into a full budget, changes to protect the poorest can be made.
This statement has been put together based on statements from JPIT members Paul Morrison and Steve Hucklesby.