Amidst the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that the UK’s foreign aid spending would be decreased from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP, a reduction of roughly £4 billion. The cut has been met with considerable backlash—including from ‘rebel’ Conservative MPs—as it goes against the 0.7% baseline enshrined in the UK’s International Development Act and promised in the 2017 Conservative Election Manifesto.
In the context of this parliamentary opposition, the latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies reveals that a majority (55%) of Britons say they support the foreign aid budget cut from 0.7% to 0.5% of total national income, whereas just 18% oppose it.
Respondents’ support for the foreign aid cut increases with age, ranging from a plurality (45%) of 18-to-24-year-olds to a majority (66%) of those aged 65 and over. The Government’s foreign aid policy also enjoys the support of a plurality (42%) of 2019 Labour voters, though a considerable third (32%) of these voters are in opposition.
Confirming Britons’ reasoning for supporting the budget cut, 50% of respondents believe the UK spent too much on foreign aid last year, after being informed that the UK spent £14.5 billion on foreign aid in 2020. When these particular respondents were asked what reduction in the foreign aid budget they would deem appropriate this year, 28% say a reduction of £7 billion, 20% say £11 billion, and 24% say the full amount of £14.5 billion.
Alternatively, 30% believe the UK spent about the right amount on foreign aid, including a plurality of 18-to-24-year-olds (44%) and 2019 Labour voters (42%), compared to a fifth (19%) of 2019 Conservative voters. Just 9% of Britons believe not enough was spent on foreign aid in 2020.
But while there is significant support for reducing the UK’s foreign aid spending, 48% nevertheless agree that the UK Government has a responsibility to give aid to poorer nations, a sentiment expressed by a majority or plurality of all age groups. Meanwhile, a quarter of respondents neither agree nor disagree (25%) or disagree (23%) that the UK Government has a responsibility to give aid to poorer nations.
While a clear majority (60%) of 2019 Labour voters agree that the UK Government has a responsibility to give aid, Conservative voters are more divided on this responsibility, with 37% agreeing and 33% disagreeing.
These results suggest that the British public at large is broadly in favour of foreign aid spending, just not at the level seen in previous years. Therefore, as a bipartisan force of MPs fight to bring the issue to a vote in Parliament, the UK Government can likely count on a substantial share of Britons with diverse political affiliations to support its stance. That being said, the 18% (including 32% of Labour voters) who oppose the budget cut may prove to be a forceful opposition, with the backing of major international charities like Oxfam and Save the Children. Accordingly, the Government’s reduction in the foreign aid budget is unlikely to persist without a fight.