Former minister claims Dominic Raab plans to cut foreign aid for girls’ education by 40 per cent

Foreign secretary under pressure as UK also slashes funding for overseas water projects by 80 per cent

Sudanese girls sit in a classroom at the El-Riyadh camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Geneina, the capital of the state of Sudan's West Darfur, on February 8, 2017. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

The UK is poised to cut the country's aid budget for girls' education by more than 40 per cent, a former government minister claimed.

Baroness Liz Sugg challenged her onetime boss, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, to confirm the decision.

It was also reported that the UK will slash funding for clean water and sanitation projects by 80 per cent, a decision campaigners described as savage.

Mr Raab also indicated that UK aid to Africa would be reduced to a third of what it was two years ago.

It is all part of the government's recent decision to reduce overseas aid from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent.

Ms Sugg, who resigned from her post as foreign office minister last year when the aid cuts were announced, said the government was planning 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.

“Sexual and reproductive health spending was long a cause championed by Britain around the world and a really important part of keeping girls in school for 12 years of quality education,” Ms Sugg told Britain's House of Lords international relations select committee.

Lord Ahmad, the minister responsible for reproductive health care, did not deny the reductions when challenged by Ms Sugg. Mr Raab said he did not recognise the figures, but admitted no area was immune to cuts.

A leaked foreign office document prepared for foreign office minister Wendy Morton also detailed the cutbacks to water, sanitation and hygiene projects (Wash).

“We expect criticism on the reduction in spend, particularly as the UK public views Wash as a priority area for UK aid, because hand hygiene is widely recognised as a critical intervention to counter the spread of Covid-19, and because the cuts are being announced in the year that the UK is hosting Cop26,” the document says.

"Try to focus their attention on the fact that we are shifting our approach to strengthening sustainable and resilient national Wash services," said the leaked memo, first reported by the Daily Telegraph.

 

For 2021/2022, bilateral funding for clean water projects will be cut by 80 per cent compared with 2019, with the overall Wash budget reduced by 64 per cent.

“There is never a good time to cut aid for lifesaving water and sanitation but the middle of the worst pandemic for 100 years must be one of the worst," said Tim Wainwright, chief executive of the charity WaterAid.

“What is even more incredible is that these savage cuts to the funding of water and sanitation, which are the first line of defence against the twin threats of Covid-19 and the impacts of climate change in the world’s poorest countries, should happen just months ahead of the G7 and Cop26 climate summits at which the UK is wanting to demonstrate global leadership.”

Britain's former international development minister Andrew Mitchell said the decision would be extremely unpopular with the public and damage the country's reputation.

Mr Raab appeared to confirm a huge cut in aid for Africa when he said the budget this year was set at £764 million ($1.06 billion).

UK government statistics suggest that in 2019, Africa received £2.4bn in aid.

 

Mr Raab said half of this aid would focus on east African countries Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan.

He is under pressure to admit he was trying to hide the effects of almost £4bn in cuts to UK aid this year after refusing to publish individual country's aid budgets.

Instead, in a written statement last week, Mr Raab produced a spending table that included new categories not comparable with previous totals.

He said the table represented unprecedented transparency because it was not normal to publish thematic spending plans at the start of the financial year.

Aid agencies say it is impossible to plan for large aid cuts in the current financial year with individual country budgets still unannounced.

They claim the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office must know the figures, but would not publish them for fear of adverse publicity during the British chairmanship of the G7.

“Could you imagine the NHS being expected to establish, staff and run hundreds of emergency health centres but not being told how much funding, if any, will be available to continue their operations?” Action Against Hunger said.

Quote
There are an enormous number of voters for Boris Johnson that do not want to be spending a large amount of money on international aid

“That they might have to close 10, 40, 70 per cent of their clinics, but the government isn’t able to provide exact figures and will let them know at an unspecified time in the future?

"This is effectively the scenario we are facing.

“We need to know what funding is available to not only keep our clinics open, but to manage the fallout of potentially having to close them.

"This in itself raises serious concerns, particularly in volatile locations.”

On Monday, former international development secretary Rory Stewart said the government was being “deeply, deeply misleading” when it said it had an aspiration to return to the 0.7 per cent spending requirement.

“There are an enormous number of voters for Boris Johnson that do not want to be spending a large amount of money on international aid,” Mr Stewart told the defence think tank Rusi.

“It is unlikely that having got a huge amount of applause from cutting, he will return to the 0.7 per cent.”

Ahead of a UK-convened summit this year, Prime Minister Johnson spoke to Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday.

They agreed to work together in coming months to lead efforts to raise $5bn at the summit and to get 175 million more children into school around the world.

They discussed action on climate change ahead of Cop26 and prospects for green technology and the shift to renewable energy.

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