Widespread criticism followed the late autumn announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that overseas aid would be cut from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The government justified the reduction in the UK’s commitment as “tough but necessary” under the current financial strains imposed.
The UK is, and is perceived as, one of the world’s richest countries. It has world class scientists, research centres and universities which attract students and academics from around the globe. Most Britons want to see their country as helping to make the world a better place: they are invariably generous contributors when disasters strike. But they also wish to see aid better targetted, and can be critical when it seems that national priorities are neglected.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges locally but the UK now has a unique opportunity to benefit both the less-developed world and itself simultaneously by replacing part of the reduced overseas aid budget with an invaluable and timely gift to mankind: the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine. UK manufacturing plants, already working to produce supplies for the British people, can expand to produce for those same impoverished and deprived countries where overseas aid would normally go. The UK has an extraordinary opportunity – almost unique at the start of 2021 – to capitalise on its science, facilities and outreach to save lives across the globe.