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CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2021 / 06:25 am (CNA).- An English cardinal and the Archbishop of Canterbury urged the U.K. government Tuesday to reconsider plans to cut its foreign aid budget.

In a joint article in the London Evening Standard April 6, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Justin Welby expressed alarm at the proposed reduction in aid from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.

“Balancing the books during a pandemic on the backs of the world’s poorest is not acceptable,” they wrote.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced Nov. 25 that the government intended to abandon its commitment to the 0.7% target contained in the Conservative Party’s 2019 general election manifesto.

Senior Conservatives have threatened to block the cut and Liz Sugg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, resigned in protest.

Sunak insisted that cutting the overseas aid budget by a third was a temporary measure that was necessary as the country faces its worst recession in more than 300 years. He suggested that the change would be reversed if the financial outlook improved.

Nichols sent a letter to MPs in November criticizing the move.

“A clear measure of a nation’s greatness is the manner in which it responds to the needs of its poorest. The same is true for the response to poverty between nations. If we truly wish to be a great nation, then cutting the overseas aid budget is a retrograde step,” the archbishop of Westminster said.

“The great tragedies of forced mass migration and human trafficking must be tackled at their source. Carefully targeted and well-managed overseas aid programs are an essential part of this effort. In the face of these catastrophes, this is no time to reduce the U.K.’s contribution or effort.”

Christine Allen, director of Cafod, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said in November that the government had “chosen to turn its back on the world.”

“Aid spending on tackling global poverty must not be treated as a charitable favor to the world, but as Britain’s moral duty,” she said.

The 0.7% figure was enshrined in law by the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act of 2015.

“Saying the government will only do this ‘when the fiscal situation allows’ is deeply worrying, suggesting that it will act in contravention of its legally binding target,” Nichols and Welby wrote.

“This promise, repeatedly made even during the pandemic, has been broken and must be put right.”

The leaders said that the cut would cause “real damage” to crisis-hit countries such as Yemen, where a civil war has raged since 2014, with more than 80,000 children dying as a result of famine.