UK foreign aid cuts will remain until at least 2024

British Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said foreign aid cuts will continue for the next three years. But aid groups say the shortfall will have devastating effects in poorer countries

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, Oct. 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rights groups say the world’s poor are at risk of “devastating” losses and “countless deaths” after Britain opted to maintain its deep cuts in health care spending. foreign aid for the next three years.

The government cut overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of its gross national income this year to free up more cash for domestic spending during the pandemic.

The move will cut around £4 billion ($5.5 billion) in spending a year, with some programs such as the one to eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) being cut altogether.

The World Health Organization has warned that millions of people could be put at risk of death and disability as a result.

Unveiling his budget on Wednesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he hoped to restore normal aid spending by 2024-5, sooner than some had expected – but still too late for many.

Aid and justice groups said the shortfall would be a deathblow for the poorest countries as they struggle to recover from a pandemic that has rolled back economies and deepened poverty.

“Locking in aid cuts for three more years will have a devastating impact, costing countless lives in the Global South,” said Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now.

The long wait “just isn’t enough”, agreed Rose Caldwell, chief executive of children’s and girls’ rights group Plan International UK.

“The women and girls of the world need our full support now, not three years from now. By then, cuts to foreign aid will have done incalculable damage.”

Read more: UN says UK aid cuts risk causing thousands of unnecessary deaths

Why did Britain pledge to spend aid money?

In 1970, Britain pledged to spend 0.7% of its national income on aid under a United Nations pact.

It is one of 30 wealthy countries, including Germany and Japan, that have pledged to meet the pledge every year, and in 2015 Britain enacted into law that 0.7% of its income must be devoted to aid.

“To invest less than one percent of our national income in aid is to create a safer, richer and more secure world,” reads a government website explaining why it spends money on aid. foreign aid.

In 2020, Britain spent 14.5 billion pounds ($20.18 billion) on aid, meeting the UN’s 0.7% target, according to preliminary data released in April. However, this is a decrease of £712 million from 2019 due to a reduction in the country’s gross national income (GNI).

Are other countries making the same 0.7% commitment?

Yes, and in fact several countries exceeded the UN aid target including Denmark (0.73%), Luxembourg (1.02%), Norway (1.11%) and Sweden (1.14%), according to 2020 data from the Economic Cooperation Organization. exploitation and development (OECD).

In terms of overall spending, the United States is the largest aid donor, spending $35.5 billion in 2020, followed by Germany ($28.4 billion), Britain (18 .6 billion), Japan ($16.3 billion) and France ($14.1 billion).

Despite the pandemic, official development assistance in 2020 increased by 3.5% compared to 2019, the highest figure on record, according to the OECD.

Where is the UK aid money going?

The top five recipient countries of UK aid in 2020 were Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen, with almost all of the money going to countries in Africa and Asia, according to official data released in September.

Britain spent £14.5bn on humanitarian aid, down £698m (4.6%) from 2019, government statistics show.

Last year Britain spent around £1.6billion of its aid budget to help fight the spread of coronavirus in developing countries.

How might UK aid recipients be affected?

Aid groups say cutting the aid budget will hurt the world’s poorest, hinder climate action and damage Britain’s reputation as a leader in international development.

Bond, a network of UK development agencies, said humanitarian aid would be cut by around 40%, although it was still unclear which countries would be affected.

Some aid groups have shared details of deep cuts to programs.

The United Nations reproductive health agency, UNFPA, said the UK was reducing a pledge of 154 million pounds to just 23 million pounds this year.

The loss of funding will likely lead to 7 million additional unintended pregnancies, 2 million unsafe abortions and 23,500 maternal deaths, according to analysis by family planning charity MSI Reproductive Choices of the impact of the cuts on its services.

More than £150million has been cut from NTD programs, according to a coalition of aid and research organisations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Telegraph has reported that the UK will cut funding for vital water, sanitation and hygiene projects in developing countries by more than 80%, a move which charities have criticized given the importance sanitation under COVID-19.

“At a time when the UK should be leading the international community in responding to the climate crisis ahead of the climate summit, it is cutting aid to communities on the front lines of this crisis,” said Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children, in a statement with 200 charities.

“The UK’s hard-won reputation as an international aid leader is in tatters.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council said such cuts could exacerbate crises in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why is the UK government saying it is changing the way aid money is spent?

Britain is currently reviewing its foreign, defense and security policy, seeking to define a new role in the world after leaving the European Union.

Last June, it merged its diplomatic and aid departments to form the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Charities said cutting its development office, DFID, risked diverting money to meet foreign policy interests rather than alleviating the poverty that itself fuels migration and insecurity.

But UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the pandemic had shown how inextricably linked security, prosperity, development and foreign policy were.

Does anyone fill in the gaps in the meantime?

In many cases, projects have simply been cut, threatening to roll back in areas such as health, education and peacebuilding.

However, philanthropists including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in July that they would provide 93.5 million pounds ($130 million) to help fill the gaps, including in NTD programs and provision of family planning services.

The consortium of philanthropists – which also includes the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the ELMA Foundation and the Open Society Foundations – says the emergency aid will prevent life-saving drugs from expiring and being thrown away.

“We are intervening so that when the government rolls back its pledges next year as it has promised, the progress made will not be lost,” said Kate Hampton, CEO of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.

“Otherwise we will see a generation derailed by unplanned pregnancies and debilitating illnesses where health systems have already been disrupted by Covid-19, and UK aid cuts are now making the situation worse.

This article was updated on October 28 to add responses to Sunak’s announcement that aid spending is likely to return to 0.7 in 2024-5.

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Additional reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks and Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit to see more stories.)

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