Development experts and ministers react with outrage as UK confirms US$6.5 billion in cuts to already-emaciated development budget

On November 25, 2020, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, confirmed that the UK will not spend 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA) in 2021 and will instead allocate 0.5% of its GNI (expected to be around £10.0 billion, or US$13.0 billion), meaning a cut of about £5.0 billion (US$6.5 billion) compared to the budget in 2019. 

This announcement came as Sunak delivered the Comprehensive Spending Review which sets the budgets for government departments for the next year. Conservative Minister of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Elizabeth Sugg (known as Baroness Sugg), resigned soon after the announcement in protest of the decision.

Prior to the announcement, rumors of the cut had been circulating for some time and were heightened last week, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement that UK defense spending would receive an extra £16.5 billion (US$21.4 billion) over the next four years. Observers had questioned whether the increased funding for defense would be drawn from the UK development assistance budget.

An unprecedented rally of voices, including former UK prime ministers, the Development Studies Associationbusiness representatives, senior religious figures, and civil society, had warned Johnson to not abandon his government’s commitment of delivering 0.7% of its GNI as ODA. David Cameroon and Tony Blair, former UK prime ministers for the Conservative and Labour parties, had joined the voices warning Johnson that a cut would be a strategic mistake that would diminish the UK’s global standing ahead of the G7 and COP26 next year.

Key business officials, including the international head of the Confederation of Business Industry, the leading voice of UK businesses, noted that this cut would be bad for British businesses. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justine Welby, the most senior bishop of the Church of England, along with nearly 200 civil society voices, also raised his voice in support of not cutting the budget, underlining the UK’s moral duty. Some members of the One Nation parliamentary conservative group warned that they would vote against any such move if the government proposed it.  

Sunak said he had "listened with great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target", but that in light of the fiscal strains faced by the government due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the government had to make "tough choices".

News article - Devex

News article - The Telegraph