Ministers warned overseas aid cuts ‘would risk thousands of preventable deaths’

Cuts follow government’s decision to trim overseas development aid spending from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income

Kate Devlin
Wednesday 02 August 2023 03:20 BST
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Thousands risk dying in pregnancy and childbirth and from other preventable conditions because of cuts to the overseas aid budget, ministers were warned earlier this year.

The government’s own assessment of the impact cautioned that the potential impacts included that 27,000 children with severe acute malnutrition would go untreated “of which 3,000 could die” in south Sudan alone.

The cuts follow the government’s decision to cut overseas development aid spending from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income.

The Commons International Development Committee, which published the assessment, says ministers mitigated some of the cuts - but were only able to offer limited additional support.

For Afghanistan, for example, this still resulted in a 59 per cent cut to its allocation, the committee said.

On Afghanistan, the assessment warned: "Since returning to power, the Taliban has imposed restrictions on women and girls; preventing them from enjoying their human rights and systematically erasing them from public spaces. Therefore, reducing funding will potentially leave some of the most vulnerable women and girls in the world without critical services."

Among the potential impacts were that cuts to health programmes in Africa would mean the “number of maternal deaths averted will drop from 2,531 to just over 1,000”.

The assessment also warned that in Yemen “fewer preventable deaths will be avoided”.

In South Sudan, 27,000 children with severe acute malnutrition “will go untreated – of which 3,000 could die”.

Sarah Champion, the chair of the committee, said: “This astonishingly honest assessment of the real impact makes grim reading. It is a litany of the people - living in poverty, suffering hunger, women, girls, disabled people – who will no longer be supported by the UK’s direct aid spending, and the consequences they will face.”

She said the FCDO’s own assessment suggested “hundreds of thousands more women once again face unsafe abortions, thousands will die in pregnancy and childbirth.”

She added: “These must have been intolerable decisions for officials to make, and it is hard to see how the terrible impact set out here sits with FCDO’s recently restated commitment to ‘persuade more of our fellow citizens that international development is core to our own national interest as well as the right thing to do’.” .

The committee also published a letter by Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell, who included a paper showing the adjustments that were made in response to equality considerations and to “ensure support reached the most vulnerable”.

The paper said the “limited funds meant not all equality impacts could be mitigated but, using in-year underspends and other resources identified by officials, FCDO ministers made adjustments which (were) targeted at helping the most vulnerable and those with a relevant protected characteristic”.

The published assessment was conducted by the FCDO to assess the overall potential impact of ongoing reductions to the aid budget on people with protected characteristics, the committee said.

It is rare for equality impact assessments to be made public.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “UK aid spending is due to increase to £8.3bn next year, and will be focused on programmes addressing humanitarian crises, protecting women and girls and supporting the world’s most vulnerable, while delivering value for money for taxpayers.

“While the budget for low income countries has had to be reduced in the short term to achieve our savings target – it is due to nearly double for these countries the year after, including in Africa where aid will rise from £646m to £1.364bn.

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