UK charities have voiced their concern over government plans to change the focus of the country’s aid programme.
The warnings come in response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s comments during her recent trip to Africa, where she called for a fundamental shift in Britain’s aid programme to promote the UK’s national interest.
During a speech in Cape Town, Mrs May commented on a new strategic approach to development which was not only focused on “what we can do to help the most vulnerable people across the world and help lifting people out of poverty” but how “we ensure there is a long, longer term element by working with governments and others to ensure good government in stability in those fragile states”.
However, Catholic aid charities have stressed that this must not come at the expense of those in poverty.
“Britain’s aid programme should continue to focus on promoting sustainable development and eliminating extreme poverty,” Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at CAFOD, international development charity, told The Catholic Universe.
“The PM rightly highlighted the importance of UK trade with Africa, and the unique relationship the UK shares with many African nations.
“However, our relationship is unique because the UK, unlike the United States and many other nations, provides untied aid which puts the poorest ahead of our own national self-interest. We therefore urge the Government not to promote the UK’s national interest at the expense of those whom Pope Francis rightly describes as the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
Nick Harvey, SCIAF’s director of fundraising, communications and education, pointed out that the purpose of international aid, as enshrined in UK law by the Government, is to eradicate poverty and insisted that it must remain the number one priority.
“International aid makes a life changing difference to millions of people each year,” he said. “Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.85billion to 767million in 2013 – that’s huge progress. More people than ever are now able to work their way out of poverty, meet their basic needs, and support themselves and their families.”
Mr Harvey admitted that while supporting the most fragile countries is good in principle, identifying these countries and deciding where the aid budget is spent should be based on those in greatest need due to poverty, conflict and climate change.
“Trade and investment is extremely important for developing counties and will help many of the world’s poorest people out of poverty. However, support for UK trade and security should not come at the expense of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities,” he added.
Pro-lifers have also condemned the PM’s announcement that the UK will use some of the aid money to fund family planning services in Africa – a move they claim is a form of neo-colonialism.
During her visit Mrs May announced that some funding will be used to launch the Women’s Integrated Sexual Health (Wish) programme, which provides millions of young Africans access to family planning services.
“When our taxes go towards aid in Africa and other developing countries, we expect it to be spent on things like food, education and infrastructure,” Alithea Williams, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said. “People are outraged that it is instead spent on pushing abortion and contraception.”
Picture: Prime Minister Theresa May and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa speak to the media at DeTuynhuys Presidential Palace in Cape Town, South Africa. (Stefan Rousseau/PA).