LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday a commitment to spend 0.7 percent of national income on foreign aid would remain if she is re-elected in June, following concerns from charities that the target would be scrapped.
Her comments came as major British charities urged political parties not to ditch the overseas aid funding pledge as they gear up for a snap election set for June 8.
“Let’s be clear - the 0.7 percent remains, and will remain,” May said in a speech in her Maidenhead constituency west of London.
“What we need to do though is to look at how that money is spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way.”
Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), which spent 12.1 billion pounds ($15 billion) in 2015, has come under increasing scrutiny over its budget, with some lawmakers saying the money would be better spent at home.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who chairs the charity Christian Aid, said on Friday that Britain’s aid spending should not become a “political football”.
“As we debate the future of our country, our relationship to the EU and our new relationship with the world, we should wear our aid budget as a badge of honor that sets a standard for others to follow,” Williams said in a statement.
“We must be careful not to present people with false choices that set the needs of the most vulnerable in our own society against those of people living in long-term poverty and powerlessness overseas.”
Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates warned Britain that reducing its aid spending abroad could cost lives.
Two years ago Britain enshrined in law its commitment to spend 0.7 percent of its national income on aid every year, making it the first major industrialized nation to meet the U.N. target.
In an open letter on Friday, a group of British charities said the commitment to maintain aid spending featured in the manifestos of all major political parties during the 2015 general election.
“It is British aid and the deep generosity of the British public that is always (at) the forefront of responding to crises,” they added, citing the role of British aid and doctors in the Ebola crisis response.
Adrian Lovett, Europe Executive Director of anti-poverty charity ONE, said now was not the time to cut aid.
“With the world facing unprecedented humanitarian challenges, from famines to refugees fleeing conflict, now would be the worst time to turn our back and look away,” he added.
Reporting by Anna Pujol-Mazzini @annapmzn. Additional reporting by William James. Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org