LONDON (AP) — The British government faced fury Wednesday over its decision to ditch its long-standing target for overseas aid to finance other spending priorities in the wake of what it described as the deepest recession in over three centuries.
In a statement to lawmakers, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said that the target to allocate 0.7% of national income to overseas aid will be cut to 0.5%. The move is widely expected to free up about 4 billion pounds ($5.3 billion) for the Conservative government to use elsewhere.
He said “sticking rigidly” to the target “is difficult to justify” to people at a time when the economy has been so battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices,” he said.
He insisted that the government aims to return to the target introduced by the Labour government of Tony Blair around two decades ago but that even with the new target, the U.K. will still be the second biggest aid spender among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.
The decision goes against the government’s promise in last year’s general election to maintain the aid target. It drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum – including from within Johnson’s own Conservative Party – as well as among poverty campaigners.