25 October 2021

UK NGOs fear that the Treasury will continue to raid the depleting UK aid budget in next week's spending review as the severity of previous rounds of aid cuts take hold.  

Recent media reports suggest that the Treasury intends to use “accounting trickery” to badge more and more items as Official Development Assistance in order to meet the already reduced 0.5% target, making less funding available for humanitarian and development programmes. 

Ian Mitchell, Senior Policy Fellow at Center for Global Development (CGD), an independent think tank said: 

“If the Chancellor continues to manage Official Development Assistance in this way, it will mean a third round of cuts to real programming, as a significant part of the 0.5% will have been used up on accounting items. But the 0.5 aid target is, by law, a minimum, not a maximum that must never be exceeded. The rules do allow countries to count spend on vaccine donations and debt relief, but no other country is using this to intentionally reduce the amount of assistance which the world’s poorest countries receive. The UK is at risk of moving from being an upholder of the rules-based international system to a country that manipulates those rules to reduce its support for its poorest partners in the face of the worst economic crisis in a lifetime.” 

A survey conducted by Bond has revealed the depth and scale of previous cuts to programmes delivering vital aid such as healthcare, education, water, sanitation, food and humanitarian aid to marginalised communities around the world. 

Despite numerous Freedom of Information requests, no official information has been shared publicly to reveal the full extent of the aid cuts, leaving NGOs and journalists having to piece the picture together through surveys and leaked information.  

The new survey reveals that nearly 90% of NGOs who were in receipt of Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) funding have said their programmes had been cut, with small and medium-sized NGOs hit hardest. Many of the programmes being cut will affect the poorest and most marginalised people. The aid cuts have already affected women and girls in particular, including a programme due to provide 10,500 women in rural Afghanistan with basic literacy, vocational training and sexual and reproductive health training for both men and women.  

Charles Davy, Managing Director at Afghanaid said: 

“The cuts came at a crucial time for the project, and have meant that we had to end support to women to reach markets and keep their small enterprises going during this turbulent period in Afghanistan. This disengagement by FCDO comes during a worsening humanitarian crisis in the country, making it more difficult for these families to put food on the table. Furthermore, the UK government has missed the opportunity to support women and men in these rural communities to assert women’s economic rights in a rapidly changing political and security environment. Afghanaid is making every effort to fill this gap, with the generous support of the UK public.” 

A programme working to provide safe menstruation to 3,000 girls saw its funding completely cut, and 1,250 Bangladeshi children living in flood-prone areas, over half of which were girls, will no longer have access to primary education. Another programme in Amhara, Ethiopia, supporting 540 of the poorest people to find work was also stopped, leaving people with disabilities and women unable to read and write without a basic income. As a consequence, the NGO fears families will have to continue to rely on children to supplement family incomes, rather than attend school. 

Matthew Lake, Country Representative at Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM-UK) said:  

“We are desperately disappointed that 1,250 out-of-school children in Bangladesh, who live In areas increasingly prone to flooding as a result of climate change, will no longer be able to access primary education as a result of these brutal cuts. Surely this is the wrong message to be sending other global leaders as we head towards COP26? The cuts to programmes like ours need to be reversed.” 

Many organisations who completed the survey highlighted the difficulties of dealing with the uncertainty of prolonged cuts announcements, as well as the amount of time and effort wasted by NGOs, particularly smaller ones, who applied for open calls for funding proposals for aid programmes, to then be told shortly after the submission deadline that the funding pot had been cancelled. 

Stephanie Draper, CEO of Bond the UK network for organisations working in development said:            

“Countless humanitarian and development programmes delivering vital aid to the most marginalised people have been cut, severing lifelines to millions of people and reducing trust in the UK as a reliable partner.  If the Treasury raids the UK aid budget again using accounting trickery, it will cause further devastating cuts that will mean life or death for countless people.  This will make little difference to UK finances and sends a terrible message to climate vulnerable countries in the run up to Cop26 – the most critical climate summit in years.” 

ENDS 

Notes to editor  

  1. Bond is the UK network for organisations working in international development. Bond unites and supports a diverse network of over 400 civil society organisations from across the UK, and allies to help eradicate global poverty, inequality and injustice.  
  2. For further information please contact Maryam Mohsin on 07555 336029 or [email protected]