British MPs condemn cuts to funding for girls’ education in poor countries

Government accused of hiding true figures as support for aid programmes is slashed

Zimbabwe, Banket - November 10, 2016: A young school girl with red school dress at the 'Sacred heart high school' in Banket is smiling to the photographer.
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The head of the UK's International Development Committee criticised the government for cutting aid funding for girls' education by at least 40 per cent.

IDC chairwoman Sarah Champion also accused the government of hiding the true figures.

Politicians on the IDC, which scrutinises spending by the Department for International Development, repeatedly wrote to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab asking for more transparency and clarity as to how the figures compare with those of previous years.

“It is ridiculous that the government trumpets its commitment to girls’ education but then appears to cut the programmes in this area by 40 per cent,” Ms Champion said.

“But it could be even worse than this – we don’t know because the government won’t give us the figures when we repeatedly ask.

“We’ve been given a mishmash of numbers and percentages which just don’t add up.”

The IDC also called for more information on the overall cut in foreign aid from 0.7 per cent of annual UK income to 0.5 per cent.

It said it cannot do its job of scrutinising foreign aid programmes because the government appears to be hiding the detail of its spending plans.

“Our duty as MPs on the International Development Committee is to scrutinise the spending of taxpayers’ money so it helps reduce poverty, making the world a better place for us all,” Ms Champion said.

“But to do this we need the government to tell us how much it is spending, where and on what. The government appears to be hiding this very basic information.

“What we can see is that the overall cut in overseas aid spending – from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent – is roughly the same as an increase, at the same time, for defence spending. Why is one affordable and the other not?”

Girls' education is one of seven priority areas for UK Official Development Assistance spending, for which £400 million ($567m) was allotted for the year 2021-2022.

This figure was announced in a written ministerial statement and contained in a letter to the IDC from Mr Raab last month.

He agreed to clarify how the figure compares with those of previous years, but the IDC said it has not received a response.

Baroness Liz Sugg, who previously worked at the DFID, challenged Mr Raab last month to confirm the education budget had been cut by 40 per cent. He did not contradict the information in his response.

“Every girl and boy deserves a quality education,” Ms Sugg said on Twitter.

“Good to see girls’ education and gender on the agenda for the G7. But finding it difficult to square this rhetoric with the reality of the #UKAid cuts – education down 40 per cent, life-saving family planning down 85 per cent. The lives of millions of women and girls will be harder.”

A spokesperson for the UK Government told The National the decision was "tough but necessary".

“The UK has ambitious targets to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10, now adopted by the G7 under the UK’s Presidency," it said.

“While the seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, the UK aid budget this year will still be more than £10 billion and girls’ education remains a major priority for this government.

"We are working with suppliers and partners on what this means for individual programmes.”

Ms Champion’s latest letter to Mr Raab seeks clarification on points relating to ODA spending.

They include a breakdown of spending on direct aid to countries and aid provided to the UN and other external organisations.

Britain is also slashing funding for clean water and sanitation projects by 80 per cent and its aid to Africa will be reduced to a third of that provided two years ago.

Ms Sugg, who resigned from her post as foreign office minister last year when the aid cuts were announced, said the government planned to close its Women’s Integrated Sexual Health programme.

She said it would cut funding to the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition by 70 per cent to 80 per cent.

Mr Raab is accused of trying to hide the impact of almost £4 billion ($5.67bn) in UK foreign aid cuts this year after refusing to publish individual countries' aid budgets.

Last month, Nobel prize winner and education campaigner Malala Yousafzai raised the alarm over Britain’s foreign aid cuts, and said they could hinder her drive to ensure girls were educated.

She told Prime Minister Boris Johnson she was “concerned he won’t reach his goal of helping 40 million girls go to school” unless Britain restores its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on foreign aid.