Sarah Champion MP releases evidence UK government knew £4.5bn aid cuts would seriously harm girls’ education and gender equality
Today, on International Women’s Day, the Chair of the International Development Select Committee, Sarah Champion MP was forced to use parliamentary privilege to publish a damning risk assessment of how the UK aid cuts would impact people “left behind” in poverty – particularly women and girls. The IDC released the leaked document at 4pm after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss refused Champion’s request to make it public earlier that day.
The equalities impact assessment, carried out by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in March 2021, warned that the proposed cuts to specific gender interventions – such as Violence Against Women and Girls and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – would impact girls’ education and wider efforts to advance gender equality in lower-income countries. VAWG alone was forecast to lose nearly £18m of bilateral funding.
Despite the FCDO being tasked to carry out the assessment, the then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab chose not to publish it and the government cut the aid budget by £4.5billion in November.
Stephanie Draper, CEO at Bond, the UK network of NGOs, said:
“It’s saddening that the harmful impact of the aid cuts on women and girls was known before it happened – and that nothing was done. If this assessment had been made public a year ago, NGOs and our partners could have mitigated risks to programmes protecting women and girls from gender-based violence and delivering clean water to marginalised communities.
“The government’s failure to be transparent has put people’s lives at risk. It must urgently restore its aid commitment to 0.7% of GNI otherwise we risk going from crisis to crisis with an inadequate aid budget, unable to meet the needs of people facing conflict – such as those in Ukraine and Afghanistan – as well as poverty and the impacts of climate change.”
Romilly Greenhill, UK Director of The ONE Campaign, said:
“Not only is it frustrating that the impact assessment has not been published, it’s counterproductive. By being left in the dark, NGOs can not properly scrutinize the effect of the cuts, and are unable to hold the FCDO to account – something the Taxpayer rightly expects to ensure value for money.
“It’s lamentable that Sarah Champion MP had to resort to this step to get the transparency we so badly need. Now we have this information, and we’ll see details of how the cuts have hurt the UK’s effort to fight global poverty, we urge the Government to restore the 0.7 commitment as soon as possible.”
Rose Caldwell, Chief Executive of Plan International UK said:
“Today’s intervention shows that even as the Government made the shameful decision to cut overseas aid, it was aware of the severe impact this would have on women and girls.
“Last year, in the wake of cuts that included an 85 per cent reduction in funding for sexual and reproductive health services, we warned that the decision could lead to the deaths of thousands of women and girls and hinder the struggle for gender equality. Now we see that the FCDO’s own assessment raised similar concerns, but still the Government pressed ahead with its plans. This is nothing less than a betrayal of women and girls around the world.
“To add insult to injury, we’re only now learning about this through the legal immunity of an MP, and not in response to numerous letters and asks by MPs, peers, and civil society. This lack of transparency is unacceptable and suggests the Government intended to bury these findings.
“Now, almost a year on from this assessment, we have a new Foreign Secretary who has pledged to restore the women and girls’ budget to pre-cut levels. We urge her to immediately outline what this would look like and to clarify that areas hardest hit by the cuts – including SRHR – will be prioritised. This will save lives.”
Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said:
“We are pleased to see the long-awaited equalities assessment and are hopeful that public scrutiny will encourage the Government to double down on its efforts to champion and support equality. Government commitments are especially significant for 2022, given the scale of the 2021 aid cuts to specific gender interventions, including those helping to end Violence Against Women and Girls, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights programmes and targeted interventions aimed at reaching those left furthest behind – including people living with disabilities.
“Today, the role of international aid in building a better, safer and equal world is more relevant than ever as the Ukrainian people look to governments across the globe to support them during the most severe humanitarian crisis Europe has seen in years. With the EU predicting up to 7 million displaced people and vulnerable refugee populations requiring distinct and personalised care, we ask the U.K Government to step up for the international community and return to the 0.7% aid target as soon as possible – the lives and futures of people across the globe depend on it.”