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Sunak misses chance to use 'defence' budget to defend us from Covid

Rishi Sunak holding up his red box outside 11 Downing Street

Sunak misses chance to use 'defence' budget to defend us from Covid

The Chancellor has failed to divert the 'defence' budget to tackling real security threats such as pandemics, poverty and the climate emergency.

Speaking after Rishi Sunak's budget speech this afternoon, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) described the Covid pandemic as a deadly reminder that guns and bombs cannot make us safe.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak announced four months ago an increase in military spending of £16bn - the highest percentage increase in UK military spending since the Korean War 70 years ago. Even before this, the UK had the eighth highest military spending in the world.

The majority of the increase is expected to be spent on military equipment despite the Covid pandemic.

The Peace Pledge Union, the UK's leading pacifist organisation, said that “defence” should mean laying strong foundations in terms of a well-funded NHS, a fairer economy and greater international co-operation to provide defence from the most serious threats that we face, including pandemics, poverty and climate disaster.

The PPU pointed out that the government's last three security reviews have all listed pandemics and climate change as security threats – but ministers have ignored their own reviews and gone on equating security with preparations for war.

Prior to the budget speech, Boris Johnson said in Prime Minister's Questions that the government had halved aid to Yemen due to the financial situation. This is despite the £16bn increase in military spending, and the government's ongoing sale of arms and provision of military training to the Saudi forces bombing civilians in Yemen.

Peace Pledge Union spokesperson Symon Hill said:

“The myths of militarism have been exploded in the last year. The Covid pandemic has been a deadly reminder that weapons cannot keep us safe. The speed with which vaccines have been produced has shown us what can happen when people around the world work together for common aims.

“If you've lost your job because of Covid, or if you can't afford to self-isolate because you're on poverty pay, or if your mental health has plummeted and mental health services have been cut, then warships and nuclear missiles won't make you any safer. Defence and security must no longer be used as euphemisms for war. We need a budget for real security, not for war."

The PPU has often expressed gratitude to those armed forces personnel who have helped to tackle Covid,such as by building hospitals and administering vaccines. The PPU believes that these people's skills and commitment could be used as part of well-funded civilian emergency services rather than as a secondary function of an organisation whose core purpose is to wage war.

In March 2020, the PPU launched the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, to call for spending on real security rather than war and militarism. Nineteen charities and NGOs signed an open letter at the time calling for military spending to be diverted to tackling the Covid pandemic and related threats.

Prior to the budget, the UK Group of the Global Campaign on Military Spending (of which the PPU is part) produced a short briefing with key statistics about military spending compared to spending on tackling climate change.


The Peace Pledge Union is a group of people pledged to resist war and tackle its causes. Join us here!