FOUR months is a long time in politics, especially during a pandemic. Back in September, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary in charge of the newly merged Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, moved to quash reports that the Government would ditch its statutory commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international aid. His comments followed persistent briefings that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, wanted to scrap the law, so that cash earmarked for poverty reduction could be used for an increased military budget.

On the first day his new department came into being, the Foreign Secretary was asked by reporters if the 0.7 per cent target would remain.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “It’s a manifesto commitment, it’s written into law, …and as the PM has said, we want the aid capacity, the development expertise we’ve got, to be the beating heart of this new department.”

Any suggestion that the aid budget would be raided to build advanced new weapons, including drones, was dismissed as “colourful tittle-tattle”.

Fast forward to last Wednesday when as part of his spending review the Chancellor announced he would be cutting the overseas aid budget by a third, breaking the Government’s statutory commitments and the Tories’ manifesto commitments. The announcement was made despite confirmation that the aid budget would have fallen next year in any event as national output is on course to shrink by 11 per cent. It is estimated that the reduction in the target should save the Treasury up to £4bn.

The Chancellor’s announcement came days after the Prime Minister announced a £16.5bn spending boost for the Ministry of Defence which will lift the £41.5bn annual defence budget by roughly £5bn a year, on top of a previous commitment to lift the budget by just above inflation. The total uplift will be £21.5bn.

One of the immediate casualties of the Government’s decision was Lady Sugg, who resigned from her ministerial post in the Foreign Secretary’s new department. In her resignation letter, she wrote: “Many in our country face severe challenges as a result of the pandemic and I know the Government must make very difficult choices in response. But I believe it is fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development. This promise should be kept in the tough times as well as the good.”

Andrew Mitchell, a former Conservative international development secretary, said the aid cuts “will be the cause of 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children. This is a choice I for one am not prepared to make. None of us will be able to look our children in the eye and claim we did not know what we were voting for”.

Many of those supporting the decision to cut aid to the poorest and most vulnerable argue that charity begins at home. All beginnings, however, are part of a bigger story. They set the context for the start of a journey but do not define its destination. Charity may begin at home, but it should never end there.

Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas' Church in Durham