Ipswich MP Tom Hunt: Why I support foreign aid budget cut

Tom Hunt MP

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt - Credit: House of Commons

There has been some controversy this week over the issue of our overseas aid budget.

This has been whipped up by various media outlets, the Labour Party and even some of my colleagues in Parliament. However, I believe that in most of the discussions we have seen a lack of nuance.

For those who claim they are outraged that we should temporarily reduce our overseas spending, I would question whether they have really listened to the public at all.

The government believes that as we come out of the pandemic, which has hit families in Britain so hard this year, we should reduce our overseas aid spending from 0.7% of our Gross National Income (GNI) to 0.5%.

I happen to agree with this. Over the past year, there have been unprecedented demands on the public purse and this is likely to continue to be the case over the next few years.

The move will free up around £4billion to spend on domestic priorities. We would still be spending £10billion, which is an enormous amount of money and will be incredibly important in setting up projects in some of the most deprived areas of the world.

However, I really do agree with many of my constituents that this year we should focus closer to home.

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On Wednesday, for example, I gave a speech in the House of Commons on our duty to pump more funding into SEND education in our schools in order to utilise the skills and talents of some of our most unconventional and creative thinkers to benefit this country. This is exactly the type of area where some of this additional funding could be directed.

Successive Conservative governments have a great track record of delivering one of the largest and most comprehensive aid programmes in the world. While we have set ourselves targets, including in our manifesto, it would be completely remiss if we did not take into account the recent and completely unprecedented and unpredicted developments caused by the coronavirus in shutting down the world economy this year.

The government hasn’t had to deal with something on this scale since the Second World War. For all those people in the media attempting to claim that Conservative MPs are somehow evil or don’t care about the world’s poor, you only have to look at our country’s record over the last few years.

We have routinely been one of the only countries to reach the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of our gross national income on foreign aid. Last year, the UK was one of only seven countries who met the target, giving $17.4bn and, globally, only Germany and the USA spent more in absolute terms than we did.

I do also think it is a bit rich and frankly ridiculous that politicians in the US have spoken out to criticise the spending cut.

The average foreign aid spending of developed countries is 0.4% GNI, with the US ranking near the bottom - spending only 0.2% on foreign aid. Our cut to 0.5% still outperforms most others, including the USA.

Clearly, our record is something we can be proud of, and I believe that when it is appropriate, we can maybe return to that 0.7% figure.

But our priority and the priority of the overwhelming majority of the public should be to sort out our domestic commitments first, such funding for public services, Special Educational Needs provisions, and supporting businesses and jobs.

The most recent poll by YouGov was fairly clear - 66% of those who were asked believed that, in the wake of the Covid crisis, the cut was justified. Only 18 per cent opposed it.

I also think, however, that there is a bigger issue of hypocrisy coming from the Labour party and activists in the media, which is important to highlight.

The Labour party have spent the whole of this last year trying to set up a narrative that the government are allowing people and children in this country to go hungry.

They eagerly welcomed UNICEF’s political publicity stunt when it said that it would hand out food parcels to UK families and organised disingenuous debates, while this government provided one of the largest ever packages of support in this country’s history.

Not even during the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, when families in Britain were struggling enormously, did the Labour government provide free school meal support when children have not been at school.

After all this, those same activists and politicians are now attacking the genuinely concerned population for wanting to temporarily reign in on overseas spending in order to focus more at home.

This strikes me as an incredibly hypocritical position. You simply cannot go round pushing the narrative that the people of this country are at unprecedented levels of suffering and then turn round to criticise the government when they decide to focus more money and more attention to help build the country back as we recover.

I understand why the government has made this decision and clearly the vast majority of the country, including myself, support it. The public looks to the prime minister and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to make very difficult decisions about our finances and I am glad that we currently have a government which is responsive to the wishes of the public and will make those necessary decisions for our benefit.

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