A demonstration outside the Treasury this morning (12 April) has urged the government to cut military spending, including financial support for arms exports.
The demonstration follows criticism of the government for making relatively minor cuts to military spending, compared to the cuts faced by areas such as housing, social care, welfare benefits and higher education.
The protest has been organised by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to mark the first Global Day of Action on Military Spending, which will involve events around the globe.
CAAT has pointed out that while Ministry of Defence budgets were cut by only eight per cent over four years, other departmental cutbacks averaged eighteen per cent. Protesters are comparing the costs of arms and the military to the amounts spent on nurses and teachers - some of whom are threatened with redundancy in the financial cutbacks.
The protesters are also drawing attention to what they describe as the "hidden subsidies" that the government passes on to the arms industry. These include taxpayer-funded research and development (R&D), government-sponsored insurance and trade promotion through UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), a unit of Vince Cable's Department for Business.
Total subsidies are estimated to be in the vicinity of £500 million a year. CAAT say that there is no economic case for such subsidies, given that the arms industry employs just 0.2 per cent of the UK workforce and is responsible for less than 1.5 per cent of UK exports.
“It is shocking that the government continues spend big on arms and the military even as it cuts back on social welfare," said Ian Pocock of London CAAT, "This is not OK".
He called for a "fundamental shift in the UK government's spending priorities, away from arms spending towards more ethical and beneficial areas, and an end to government promotion of arms exports".
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has released new statistics to coincide with the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. SIPRI estimated that in 2010 military expenditure reached $1,630 billion, an increase of 1.3 per cent in real terms.
As previously, the US continues to be the largest military spender with 43 per cent of the global total (4.3 percent of the US Gross National Product). Although recession and financial cutbacks had lowered military spending in some countries, it increased in many countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.