Foreign aid budget 'raided' by Home Office to pay for refugee hotels, says committee

The UK's foreign aid budget is being "raided" by the Home Office to cover the costs of hotel accommodation for refugees, a committee of MPs has claimed.

A report from the International Development Committee said the world's poorest countries were being "short-changed" by the government as the "political choice" was being made to spend the money at home.

They pointed to government figures that showed the Foreign Office's Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending had been reduced by £1.7bn compared to its initial budget "to support the reallocation of ODA budget across government".

And the numbers also showed an almost £2bn increase of funding from the pot going into the Home Office, compared to the initial assessment for this year.

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The committee claimed was it a "self-defeating decision which is likely only to increase the number of refugees arriving in the UK".

Speaking to Sky News, the cross-party group's chair, Labour MP Sarah Champion said: "The Home Office has basically nicked the Foreign Office's chequebook and is going on a spending spree.

"I have been absolutely staggered by the level of this raid. It has meant that our foreign aid is being spent in the UK, not in the countries that are most in need of it around the world.

"And whilst I fully support refugees being taken care of in this country… to take it away from the low and middle income countries where we could be dealing with the reasons people are forced to flee their homes seems utterly nonsensical to me."

The foreign aid budget had been set at 0.7% of of gross national income during David Cameron's tenure as prime minister, but it was cut to 0.5% by Boris Johnson in 2021, despite a large rebellion on the issue from his own backbenches.

The committee said this meant support for the most vulnerable countries had already been "disproportionately cut", before even taking into account the spend in the UK.

And they accused the government of "wilfully attempting to prevent us carrying out our scrutiny role" by refusing to provide them with the most up-to-date statistics.

The MPs called on ministers to now ring-fence the foreign aid budget, putting it "beyond the reach of the Home Office" and returning to the "spirit" of ODA - where it "promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries".

Ms Champion added: "The Home Office raid on the UK's aid budget is running unchecked.

"It's time to face up to ministers and say hands off the aid budget - vulnerable people in the world's poorest countries are being short-changed."

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A government spokesperson said they had "acted decisively and compassionately" to support people from Ukraine and Afghanistan, and provided an additional £2.5bn of funding for that purpose.

They added: "We report all aid spending in line with the OECD's rules - which allow funding to be spent on food and shelter for asylum seekers and refugees for their first year in the UK.

"The UK government spent more than £11bn in aid in 2021 and remains one of the largest global aid donors with most of it still going towards supporting the poorest communities around the world, helping tackle deadly diseases and getting millions of girls into school."