I spend a lot of time with conflicted people. The ones who think “charity begins at home”, but who make sure the kids go to school in a Christmas jumper to raise money for Save the Children and who weep at footage of Indian families stoking funeral pyres tonight. These are the people – decent, pragmatic, generous and no-nonsense – who gave the Prime Minister his majority and the people I’ve seen become more and more worried about our national reputation over the last few weeks.

The first sign something was changing was the reaction to drastic aid cuts to Yemen, a country besieged by Covid, in the grip of a civil war and stalked by famine. Regardless, Rishi Sunak mandated cuts to UK Aid to the country of 60 per cent. The public responded to the coverage – including the BBC’s report about the nine-year-old blind boy, Ahmed, who has been leading lessons in a bombed-out school – with characteristic generosity.

In the next few weeks, we heard from the science community – the people whose brilliance and ingenuity holds the prospect of a return to something like normal life for all of us. Yet here they were, in the middle of a pandemic, with funding for their projects being pulled in case after case, sometimes with just a few months to go until completion. It’s a colossal waste.

Over the last few weeks, as international development campaigners have been back out and about doing street stalls and socially-distanced conversations in town squares, we’ve been hearing the same thing again and again: “It’s daft not to finish what you’ve started”. Whether on the streets or in focus groups, people intuitively get it – if you cut support to girls’ education (supposedly a personal Johnson priority) by more than 40 per cent, girls will get pulled out of school half-way through. If you cut aid to family planning by 85 per cent that means supplies of contraception run out and women can’t have implants safely removed.

Something about leaving a job half-done seems to deeply offend a British sensibility about reliability. While people are bashful about what they personally have done for others during the pandemic (so many of those who have supported neighbours recoil from the word “volunteer” – they’ve “just been doing what anyone would do”), it does matter to them that they’re thought of as dependable. It matters that we’re reliable collectively, too.

In coming months, the UK will be at the centre of global negotiations – first in Cornwall next month when some of the world’s most powerful countries come together as the G7 and then in Glasgow in November when the COP climate change talks take place.

That’s why organisations representing more than 12 million Brits have come together in a new coalition, Crack the Crises, to try to use these final few weeks before the G7 to get our PM to step up. 

The first thing he could do to make sure his landmark summit is a success is to announce that he’s reversing these devastating aid cuts. That would give him the credibility to hit the phones to other leaders and start hammering out a global deal on vaccines. It would mean in the first instance agreeing with other G7 countries that they will all pay their fair share of the estimated $66 billion it will take to vaccinate the world, as demanded by leading scientists earlier this week. All G7 countries should agree to start sharing doses as a matter of urgency as most of Sub-Saharan Africa is yet to vaccinate frontline health workers. They should share patents, technology and know-how so vaccine manufacturing can scale up across the world. 

And finally, the PM should start thinking of this G7 as a milestone on the road to COP, not a totally separate event to the climate talks, if he wants to send a consistent message to low and middle-income countries that the world’s response to both Covid and climate change won’t be a rich-world stitch up.

The UK government has an incredible opportunity in coming weeks and mustn’t squander it because it misread public opinion. This is not a miserly, inward-looking nation. We are still hurting deeply from this dreadful pandemic and its painful secondary effects, but all of my conversations with people over these last few weeks tell me there’s something stirring in the heart of the British people. We know it’s both right and smart to crack these crises together and we each want to do our bit. It’s long past time for the PM and Chancellor to change course and do theirs.

Kirsty McNeill is Executive Director for Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at Save the Children.