ARTICLE 19 joins many partners around the world and concerns widely shared, at the announcement this week that the UK government intends to dramatically reduce the overseas aid budget by a third.
The announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak ends the Conservative Party’s commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid. In the same statement by the Chancellor it became clear that the savings made on the overseas aid budget are almost equal to the amount that will be put to a domestic investment fund.
This decision comes at a time when the world is facing enormous challenges and setbacks in the fight against global poverty and when the impact of measures against COVID-19 pandemic will be felt severely by the world’s most vulnerable populations. It also comes at a time when the environment and space for civic engagement and civil society organisations is shrinking, when active participation and monitoring is being restricted and when demands for democracy and accountability are weakening.
As an international human rights organisation promoting the right to freedom of expression, ARTICLE 19 has long advocated for a human rights based approach to aid policy. We have highlighted the role that freedom of expression and information and media freedom play in the development agenda. We have also repeatedly called for greater transparency in foreign aid delivery and for linking financial assistance to developing countries to demonstrations of their real commitment to, and showing tangible improvements in, human rights.
There is no doubt that the impact of measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic will have dire financial consequences for the people living in the UK. However, now is not the time for the UK to retract its commitments to overseas aid, to reduce its contribution to global fight against poverty and support for human rights. It is not a time for narratives which appear on the surface to address the undoubted hardship for the domestic population against an outdated and gross misrepresentation of how and why that aid is spent.
Now, more than ever, the UK government must recognise that addressing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to tackle its aftermath must be rooted in international cooperation, support and solidarity. People in developing countries and those suffering consequences of many conflicts around the world must continue to receive aid according to humanitarian law and humanitarian standards.
International and local civil society organisations must be seen as partners in this process; they should not be excised from key programmes designed to deliver support and essential services which enable citizen participation in development programs.
We join our partners and urge the UK government to reconsider the decision to cut the foreign aid spending and to recommit to being a world leader in impact through overseas aid programmes.