LONDON: The UK government has been criticized after cutting all but “essential” overseas aid in the wake of reducing its international development budget to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product.
Politicians and charities have warned that lives will be lost as a result of the cuts, with countries such as war-torn Yemen likely to take the brunt of the loss of funds.
The war in Ukraine is taking up a significant portion of the budget, as is the UK’s system for taking in Afghan refugees following the collapse of the government in Kabul in August 2021.
The initial aid budget cut, from 0.7 percent of GDP, was implemented in the wake of the financial burden placed on the UK economy by the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns and social restrictions.
Government departments, meanwhile, have been told that “non-essential aid spending” is to be halted until the UK has a new prime minister following the resignation of incumbent Boris Johnson, as the 0.5 percent spend cap is close to being reached.
Sam Nadel, head of government relations at the charity Oxfam, said that aid for Ukrainians “cannot come at the expense of responding to other emergencies around the world such as in East Africa and Yemen.”
Simon Starling, director of policy at the Bond network of UK aid organizations, told The Independent newspaper: “If the government sticks to the diminished 0.5 percent budget while new crises like the Ukraine war emerge, more and more people will be denied the critical humanitarian and development support the UK promised to provide.”
Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy, meanwhile, said that the conflict in eastern Europe was already placing excess strain on many places that had lost out on UK aid.
“At a time of chronic global food shortages, drought, rising prices and conflict in so many parts of the world, it’s extraordinary that UK developmental aid appears to have been suspended.
“Lives literally appear to be dependent on the Conservative Party leadership elections.”
Former International Development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “To withhold spending on life-saving projects in this way will undoubtedly cost lives and further impair the UK’s reputation.”
The government said that it was “prioritizing overseas aid funding, such as providing humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine.”
A spokesman for Johnson told The Independent: “People would expect us to take heed of the amount of money we have available to spend without adding additional debt.”