The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health opposes the decision of the UK Government to institute large-scale cuts to its global aid budget. This decision puts at risk the lives of children – lives which can be saved through the simple, cost-efficient health care systems and services that the UK has taken a lead role in supporting in some of the poorest and most fragile places around the world.1 2 3 RCPCH Global has been delivering support to local clinicians in a number of low-income countries including Sierra Leone. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funding cuts will, unless reconsidered, undermine that work.
The proposed aid cut from the UK Government commitment of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) was originally pitched at around 30%.4 With falling GNI as a result of COVID-19, the actual cut rises to around 50%. But the reality on the ground – including in countries where we have seen the direct effect of these cuts already being implemented – is reduction in funding of 60-80%. This scale of cuts will come with adverse consequences. The FCDO says that no final decisions have been made.5
Yet cuts have already started. The RCPCH Global UKAid funded programme in Sierra Leone, due to be extended on 1 April, has been cut completely, leaving delivery of a limited programme through other funding for the short term. Programmes of critical, life-saving support are being terminated, often with little explanation to local government and NGO partners.6 The results are predictable – resurgent mortality and morbidity and falling trust in the UK as development partner.
The Government argues that COVID-19 has devastated the UK’s economy, making it impossible to continue spending on other countries. It is true that we have suffered a major blow. But suddenly cutting off aid now forfeits the much greater value of the UK’s investment in those countries made over the last three decades and more. This course of action will reverse valuable progress made.
The Government says we cannot afford to continue providing aid at the current level. For comparison, the average per capita health spending in wealthy countries is US$2,937; in low-income countries it is around US$41 – a difference of more than 70 times.7 The truth is we cannot afford not to continue supporting our partners around the world – to keep building the global network of robust health systems. Cutting away vital financial and technical support undermines the very health systems which will be the frontline of new pandemic diseases in the future. Health, development and security are now global issues in which mutual support is the only viable ways forward.
The Government’s prior funding has brought benefits but cutting aid risks seeing rising rates of death among mothers, infants and children in poor and conflict-affected countries in the immediate future. In the longer-term, these cuts risk blighting the lives of a generation of children and young people in some of the most fragile countries in a world where poverty is rising again with COVID, escalating the risks of instability. This damaging decision is a backward step and at odds with previously pledged moral and legal responsibility and it sacrifices the UK’s hard-won global reputation for humanitarian leadership.
- 1UN: ‘Severity of suffering ‘impossible to overstate’ news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086042
- 2WHO: Acute malnutrition threatens half of children under five in Yemen in 2021. www.who.int/news/item/12-02-2021-acute-malnutrition-threatens-half-of-children-under-five-in-yemen-in-2021-un
- 3UNICEF: www.unicef.org/press-releases/acute-malnutrition-threatens-half-children-under-five-yemen-2021-un
- 4In 2015, the Coalition Government enshrined in law the commitment to provide 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) as Official Development Assistance (ODA).
- 5The Guardian 'Leak reveals UK Foreign Office discussing aid cuts of more than 50%' www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/mar/05/uk-foreign-office-discussing-aid-cuts-more-than-50-leak-reveals
- 6Open Democracy 'UK government accused of ‘grotesque betrayal’ as full foreign aid cuts revealed' www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/uk-government-accused-of-grotesque-betrayal-as-full-foreign-aid-cuts-revealed/
- 7Global spending on health. Geneva: WHO; 2019 (WHO/HIS/HGF/ HF Working Paper/19.4).