This week, the International Development Select Committee released a leaked government report from last year.
The report shows that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) knew that the cuts to Official Development Assistance (ODA) would have had a significant and detrimental impact on those left furthest behind, including women, girls and people with disabilities.
Despite this, the government made the political choice to go ahead and cut the budget from 0.7% of gross national income to just 0.5%, wiping out billions of funding that was already supporting some of the most marginalised communities around the world.
Since the cuts were announced just over a year ago, the International Development Select Committee (IDC), along with NGOs and parliamentarians from all sides of the chamber, have called for the government to release any assessments used to make the decision to cut the UK aid budget. This information would have allowed NGOs to understand the scale and depth of the cuts, and would help determine who would feel the brunt of the cuts the hardest, which would help to mitigate the consequences and prepare accordingly.
Despite the benefits, the FCDO refused to release any assessments. So, using parliamentary privilege, the IDC was forced to publish a leaked copy of the report to demonstrate the harmful impact these cuts have had on people facing extreme poverty, conflict and inequality.
We now know that women and children bore the brunt of the government’s cuts to ODA. Programmes that were tackling violence against women and girls, as well as those supporting sexual and reproductive rights, were brutally cut. Both have an impact on girls’ education – a flagship development policy for the prime minister.
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The report also admitted that the estimated 60% cut to social protection programmes would not only impact poverty alleviation, but would exacerbate the impact of Covid-19 on the “poorest and most marginalised.”
When asked by Sarah Champion MP as to whether she would release the document, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss refused, stating that they normally don’t release impact assessments as it could have a “chilling effect”, potentially comprimising officials’ willingness to be truthful if they think their work will be released in the public domain. This is despite the fact that the government has released countless Equality Impact Assessments before.
This lack of transparency has caught NGOs, and the communities we work with, completely off guard. If this assessment was made public when it was written over a year ago, then NGOs and partners would have had time to plan mitigation for the impact the cuts will have on women, girls, as well as other marginalised communities such as people with disabilities.
Instead, this blatant disregard of transparency has caused unnecessary harm and undoubtedly cost lives.
Now that we know the true impact of the cuts to ODA, the government should take urgent steps to reverse the decision. It is not too late to undo at least some of the damage that has been done. 0.7% of GNI needs to be restored, 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.