Ministers ignored warning of impact on victims of sexual violence when forcing through aid cuts

Secret assessment – hidden from MPs – forecast loss of services to women suffering ‘sexual exploitation and abuse’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 08 March 2022 18:56 GMT
Boris Johnson dismisses warning ‘hundreds of thousands’ will die from tropical diseases after aid cuts

Ministers ploughed ahead with international aid cuts despite a warning of the harsh impact on women and girls suffering sexual violence, a leaked document reveals.

The secret impact assessment – obtained by a committee of MPs – forecast a big reduction in services to victims of “violence including sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment”.

The aid cuts slashed spending on a United Nations contraceptives programme by 40 per cent. 700,000 fewer girls are expected to be supported in education.

In the Commons, the foreign secretary Liz Truss was urged to explain why the assessment, from March 2021, was suppressed.

Its exposure also raises questions for Dominic Raab, who was foreign secretary when the cuts were being made last year – when he refused to reveal details.

In April 2021, Mr Raab told MPs that the equalities assessment “showed no evidence that programmes targeting those with protected characteristics were more likely to be reduced than other programmes”.

In fact, ministers knew the cuts were likely to fall hardest on poor and marginalised groups, such as people with disabilities, as well as on gender-based violence programmes and sexual health education.

Sarah Champion, chair of the Commons international development committee, called the government’s behaviour “appalling”.

“Our committee was denied access to the equalities assessment, seemingly for ministers to dodge the humiliation of admitting their own aid cuts undermined the government’s key development objective: to support women and girls.

“To deny parliamentary scrutiny of key documents showing who was impacted by the aid cuts is simply shameful. The public have a right to know how their taxes are spent, and the advice ministers are given.”

The government broke a manifesto pledge by slashing £4bn a year from overseas aid spending, a reduction – from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of national income – that will not be restored until 2024 at the earliest.

The cut came back to bite Boris Johnson at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, when the UK was accused of undermining its claims of leadership on tackling the climate emergency.

Meanwhile, the “minister for international development” has been handed eight other jobs, prompting protests a promise to protect the UK’s aid effort has been broken.

The assessment warned of “a significant reduction in the number and size of targeted programme activities aimed at reaching those furthest behind – including women, girls and people with disabilities”.

The cuts would also “reduce services available to women and girls who are subject to sexual violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment”.

Rose Caldwell, chief executive of the charity Plan International UK, said: “Even as the government made the shameful decision to cut overseas aid, it was aware of the severe impact this would have on women and girls.”

Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, the UK network of aid organisations, said: “It’s saddening that the harmful impact of the aid cuts on women and girls was known before it happened – and that nothing was done.”

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