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Now is not the time to turn our backs on the world’s poorest people

Now is not the time to turn our backs on the world’s poorest people

The UK government must reconsider its plans to drastically cut its Official Development Assistance (ODA) or UK Aid as detailed in these reports.

These proposed cuts; as high as 67% in Syria, 60% in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 59% in South Sudan, and more than 90% in the Sahel region will have devastating consequences on the lives of millions of people who are dealing with severe hunger, climate change, conflict and now Covid-19.

The UK demonstrated great leadership in 2015 by becoming the only G7 country to enshrine in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) to overseas aid. This meant less than 1p from every pound paid by the UK tax payer would go towards foreign aid. This money directly saves lives through humanitarian assistance in times of crises. At the same time, through programmes on health and nutrition, livelihoods, and education it lays the foundation for more resilient and healthier populations who can the find their own way out of extreme poverty.

We understand the economic pressures that the UK government is under as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the decision to reduce the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% will not significantly contribute to meeting the fiscal deficit. However, these cuts will have critical consequences on the lives of the people that UK Aid has contributed to improving. They will unravel decades of progress at the worst possible time.

The DRC now has almost 22 million people facing acute food insecurity - the largest number of food insecure people that has ever been recorded in any country. But, funding for humanitarian response is currently meeting less than 40% of the actual need. Aid cuts to the DRC, at a time like this, will be catastrophic.

As a result of pandemic-related shrinking of the UK economy, the UK Aid budget had already decreased. The aid commitment was designed to go up and down with the economy so these cuts come on top of an existing overall reduction. These will severely impact the reach and quality of ongoing programmes and efforts. The gains we have made so far in improving the nutritional status of children and women over the years will be lost very soon, as provision of nutrition services will be severely impacted. Efforts to improve healthcare services and health systems will also most likely stall or have to be significantly reduced, which will no doubt lead to more illness and deaths. Maintaining good quality education services will also prove difficult. Such reductions in programme services coupled with ongoing climate shocks like drought and floods, and recurrent conflict, will massively exacerbate vulnerability and suffering.

The UK government’s Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy reinforced its intention to remain a world leading international development donor, fighting global poverty and building back better after Covid-19. But, the UK cannot be a leader on international development by drastically cutting the aid budget. If anything, it seems the the UK is now walking away from a position of leadership.

Our ambition and commitment needs to be backed by the necessary investments that contribute to improvements in the lives of the poorest, in some of the most fragile parts of the world. The pandemic has shown us how vital health systems like the NHS are and as we continue to prioritise this domestically, we must not renege on our commitment to achieving better health and the end of extreme poverty for the most vulnerable people around the world.

Raise your voice with us to save UK Aid, and ensure the UK does not turn its back on the world’s poorest people. Please ask your MP to speak out.

Anushree Rao, Director of Policy & Campaigns, Concern Worldwide (UK)

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