More than a hundred UK charities, including Christian Aid and CAFOD, have condemned the Government’s decision to cut aid to Yemen, following criticism from MPs across the political spectrum.
The UK has pledged at least £87 million in aid, down from a promise of £160 million in 2020 and £200 million in 2019.
Charities have warned the Prime Minister that Britain’s reputation as a country that helps those most in need will be destroyed if it steps away from the people of Yemen.
The Government said it “remains steadfast” in its support to the Yemeni people.
In a letter to Boris Johnson, they say the Government has made a “misjudgement” by thinking the public is happy to turn away from countries affected by poverty, war and disease.
They write: “Yemen should have been a positive example of what merging the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could deliver… instead, the UK continues to sell arms and is now cutting its humanitarian assistance by 60%.
“History will not judge this nation kindly if the Government chooses to step away from the people in Yemen and thus destroy the UK’s global reputation as a country that steps up to help those most in need.”
The 101 signatories include Tearfund, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Compassion UK, SCIAF and Care International.
The damage done to the economy by coronavirus has led the Government to shelve its manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, cutting that to 0.5%.
The charities say the cuts are taking place with “no transparency, consultation or meaningful strategy”.
They are calling on the Government to reconsider and reinstate the commitment to 0.7%.
MPs must urgently be given a say in Parliament “before further damaging and irreversible cuts” to programmes are made, the charities also insist.
Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “Slashing aid to Yemen – a country on the brink of famine – is a betrayal of Britain’s claim to global leadership and of British values.
“Aid cuts are a false economy that will remove a vital lifeline from millions of people in Yemen and beyond who can’t feed their families, have lost their homes and whose lives are threatened by conflict and Covid.
“The UK’s refusal to halt arms sales that are fuelling the conflict is immoral. I urge the Prime Minister to do the right thing – stop arms sales and restore lifesaving aid.”
The decision has already drawn criticism from politicians.
Conservative former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said the “unimaginable” move would “condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation”.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the change represented the UK “abandoning our moral obligations”.
A recent report by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) found the pandemic has worsened the already “dire humanitarian” situation in fragile states such as Syria, Yemen and South Sudan.
It added that aid workers expect the situation to deteriorate further in the coming months, with the economic impact of the virus leaving people unable to afford food and other essentials, with thousands likely to die from hunger this year in several countries.
A spokesman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “The UK remains steadfast in our support to the Yemeni people as one of the biggest donors of lifesaving aid and through our diplomatic efforts to bring peace.
“Since the conflict began, we have supported millions of vulnerable Yemenis with food, clean water and healthcare, and will continue to do so.
“We are using our UN Security Council seat and working with our allies to push for a lasting resolution to the conflict. Yemen’s leaders must meaningfully engage with the UN to agree a ceasefire.”