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UK Government Cuts UNICEF Funding by 60%

Mary Jane Amato reports as the UK government announces extensive foreign aid cuts.

A fleet of tampons rest against a baby blue background

The decision of the UK Government - one of the principal allies in UNICEF’s global activism for children - to cut their funding by 60% has put the organisation in a challenging position.

According to a Foreign Office spokesman, this step has been taken following the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the national economy, which has “forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid”.

After an incredibly difficult year for the British economy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has concluded that cuts will be necessary for the nation to recover from the financial distress the pandemic has created. This, unfortunately, means funding for one of the most prominent charities working around children’s rights and wellbeing will be substantially reduced.

A Significant Reduction

UNICEF - a world-renown organisation established 70 years ago by the United Nations - will have 60% of its core funding from the UK curtailed, and these cuts will affect more than just one cause. A massive 85% fund reduction on the UN sexual and reproductive health agency has also been announced. This means a $180 million withdrawal from the UNFPA Supplies Partnership, which currently prevents around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions.

UN charities are not the only ones which will suffer; the government has announced an overarching cut of foreign aid from 0.7% of national income (the UN aid target) to 0.5%, effectively bringing foreign aid spending down from £14.5 billion in 2020 to £10 billion in 2021 – the lowest total spent in nine years. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stated that “our intention is to return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows”. Nevertheless, this cut – which is substantial despite perhaps sounding small – has been condemned by some MPs and charity experts as “unprincipled, unjustified and harmful” even if it is temporary.

In April 2020, the UN Foundation, together with many academics, civil society groups, farmers’ organisations and established multinationals, urged governments to keep borders open to allow regular trade and act in unison to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from becoming a full-blown food and humanitarian crisis, but they seem to be contradicting this principle by introducing such extensive aid cuts. Having said this, with a 0.5% donation rate, the UK will still be the world’s third highest in the percentage of Gross National Income spent on foreign aid, surpassed only by Germany and France.

Severe Consequences

As Jean-Michel Grand, executive director of Action Aid Hunger, brazenly put it in his response to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab: “Right now in DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], 27 million people are going hungry and… our teams are still waiting on assurances on the funding.” Mr Grand has also estimated that the cuts will affect as many as 3 million women and children who will be prevented access to life-saving nutrition services, with children losing their lives as a direct consequence.

Millions of pounds, the bulk of which is sent to Africa and Asia, are also spent on helping developing countries improve their infrastructure in light of managing climate change risks. The government has justified such cuts by saying they are necessary in order to revive the UK’s floundering economy and ensure business owners and employees are supported through this difficult time.

However, MPs have been discussing an amendment in the last few days, and several senior conservatives are backing them in their quest. Andrew Mitchell, an MP for Sutton Colfield, feels they have enough consent to overturn the government’s decision by proposing an amendment that would enforce the 2015 International Development Act. The act obligates the government to restore the 0.7% target in the expenditure of the Gross National Income towards Official Development Assistance by 2022.

The government’s decision to substantially cut foreign financial aid has caused a far-reaching and robust backlash. Their reasoning, despite being intended to protect the UK economy and British businesses, has been perceived by many as outrageous and unempathetic at a time of major distress for the whole world.


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