LONDON: Theresa May has ruled out cuts to the UK foreign aid budget if she wins the election but doubts have been cast on other existing Conservative pledges. The prime minister said the commitment to spending 0.7% of national income on aid “will remain” although it must be spent “in the most effective way”. It follows speculation she was ready to drop it from the Tory manifesto. But she declined to guarantee existing spending on state pensions which ensures a minimum 2.5% annual increase. Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond has hinted that a pledge in the 2015 Conservative manifesto not to raise income tax, VAT or National Insurance before 2020 could be abandoned. The 0.7% aid commitment was adopted by David Cameron when he became prime minister in 2010 and later enshrined in law. The UK has met the international target – which originates in United Nations aspirations from the 1970s – every year since 2013. There has been talk it might be among a number of high-profile policies championed by Mrs May’s predecessor that she might drop to ease pressure on the public finances.
But asked about its future at an election campaign event in Berkshire, Mrs May said: “Let’s be clear, the 0.7% commitment remains and will remain. “What we need to do though is look at how that money is spent and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way.” Former chancellor George Osborne welcomed Mrs May’s pledge, tweeting that it was the “morally right” thing to do and would maintain the UK’s global “influence”. Leading aid organisations, including Unicef and Save The Children, expressed delight at the development, which comes 24 hours after Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates warned that ending the commitment would cost lives. But the Taxpayers Alliance campaign group said it was disappointed that the “arbitrary and meaningless” target was not being dispensed with.