THE Scottish Catholic Church's humanitarian charity has charged the government of acting unlawfully over foreign aid cuts.

It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced a 30% cut in foreign aid while indicating how he plans to distribute £8.1bn in aid.

The Government set out the allocations for UK Official Development Assistance spending for 2021-22 to MPs, with UK ministers acting on its decision to cut the UK's annual foreign aid commitment from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income.

Now the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund has accused the UK government of "reneging" on a legal commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI - resulting in as much as £4bn worth of cuts to international aid.

"The move is illegal," said SCIAF director Alistair Dutton. "The commitment to international aid was enshrined in law in 2015 and has been crucial in helping people escape out of poverty. "The government’s decision to abandon its legal obligations and drastically cut aid deals a tragic blow to extremely poor countries already living on a knife-edge."

READ MORE: Alistair Dutton of SCIAF - We are reneging on our commitments to foreign aid

The charity says it should at least have gone through a Parliamentary vote to be legally sanctioned.

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The SCIAF said there should be a legal challenge to ministers over the move.

But Mr Raab has insisted his department acted in a “fully transparent way” in setting out how foreign aid would be spent after he was accused of “sneaking out” cuts to the budget.

The SCIAF, the official charity agency of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has spoken out as thethe 2015 International Development Act places a statutory legal duty to ensure that the United Kingdom hits the 0.7% target set by the United Nations.

It lays out a duty to lay a statement before Parliament if the target is not met.

HeraldScotland:

The Act states: " It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the target for official development assistance (referred to in this Act as “ODA”) to amount to 0.7% of gross national income (in this Act referred to as “the 0.7% target”) is met by the United Kingdom in the year 2015 and each subsequent calendar year."

The charity says that if the 0.7% target is missed in any year the Foreign Secretary must retrospectively explain why in a statement to Parliament.

It says that until Parliament changes the law on the statutory duty to meet the 0.7% target the Government must aim to hit it.

"It cannot deliberately aim to spend 0.5% and miss the target," it said.

Mr Dutton said the suggestion that the UK cannot afford to maintain its aid budget is "obviously false" having chosen to increase defence spending by an "eye-watering" £16.5 billion.

"We have a moral duty and a legal obligation to help those in need. Were the defence budget only increased by £12.5 billion – a huge sum in any year – this latest cut could have been avoided," he said.

"So don’t be fooled by the Chancellor’s claim that we can’t justify the aid budget. We can. But we’re choosing not to.

"There are those who say charity begins at home and that we must spend the money on ourselves. Charity does begin at home but it must not end there, and the legal commitment to spend 0.7% GNI on aid means that we spend more than 99 pence in every pound on ourselves. Is it really unreasonable and unaffordable to spend less than 1p in the pound on the world’s bottom billion people?"

The SCIAF's hard-hitting take comes as 200 of the UK's charities and aid organisations accused the government of delivering a "tragic blow" to the world's most marginalised people following confirmation of foreign aid cuts.

In a joint statement, groups including Save the Children, Oxfam, ONE, Christian Aid, Care International and The HALO Trust have criticised the government's action in slashing Official Development Assistance (ODA).

In their statement, the 200 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said: "Today's announcement is a tragic blow for many of the world's most marginalised people the UK once supported, and for the UK's reputation as a trusted development partner.

"The government has not even spared countries ravaged by humanitarian crisis, disease, war and poverty.

HeraldScotland:

"When other nations are stepping forward and bolstering their aid budgets, the UK has instead chosen to step back.

"In a year when the UK has the chance to show leadership at G7 and COP26, withdrawing vital investment needed to keep everyone safe from health pandemics, conflicts and climate change, is the wrong move."

Mr Raab has said that ministers intended for the 0.7% target to return “when the fiscal situation allows” but did not set out what the criteria for this is.

“We had always said that we would return as soon as possible, this was always an emergency measure, if you like, because of the economic damage wreaked by the pandemic,” he told MPs on Thursday.

The only cut specified by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was a 90% reduction in a small programme to China now worth only £0.9m.

The announcement covers only FCDO overseas development spending, or 80% of total official development assistance.

Half of the UK bilateral aid programme would be spent in Africa and nearly 40 countries would benefit from the UK’s investment in girls.

The listed priority areas in the statement include girls’ education (£400m), Covid and global health (£1,305), climate change and diversity (£534m), humanitarian preparedness and response (£906m), open societies and conflict (£419m), trade and economic development (£491m), programmes with cross-cutting themes (£1,940m) international subscriptions (£1,219m) and financial transactions (£863m).