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MPs condemn cuts to girls’ education and ‘hiding’ of other aid reductions

19 May 2021

MPs on the International Development Committee have questioned why aid programmes aimed at boosting girls’ education in low income countries appear to have been slashed when they were described by the government as one of its top priorities.

The Committee has also called for much more information on the overall cut in foreign aid from 0.7% of annual UK earnings (officially known as the ‘Gross National Income’) to 0.5%.

The Committee condemned the cuts and added that it could not fulfil its job of scrutinising foreign aid programmes because the government appeared to be hiding the detail of its spending plans.

Girls’ education is one of seven priority areas for UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending, with a budget of £400 million for the year 2021-22. This figure was announced in a written ministerial statement and contained in a letter to the Committee from the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab MP, on 21 April.

During an evidence session of the Committee on 22 April, the Foreign Secretary promised to clarify to the Committee how this figure compared to previous years. However, a follow-up letter from Mr Raab to the Committee on 7 May, published by the Committee today, does not provide this information.

On 27 April, in evidence to the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee, it was put to the Foreign Secretary by Baroness Elizabeth Sugg, a former Department for International Development minister, that girls’ education programmes for 2021-22 had been cut by 40% compared with the average spend over the last four years. The Foreign Secretary did not contradict this information in his answer to Baroness Sugg.

The Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion MP, wrote to the Foreign Secretary on 11 March - and again on 11 May - saying the information the government had provided the Committee on the UK ODA budget was insufficient.

The Chair’s letter of 11 May to the Foreign Secretary asks in particular for clarification of several points relating to ODA spending during this financial year. These include asking the government to provide further detail about the breakdown between spending on bilateral aid (direct to countries) and multilateral aid (provided to bodies like the United Nations) and to provide budget figures for bilateral regional spending by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion MP, said:

“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.

“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.

“Our duty as MPs on the International Development Committee is to scrutinise the spending of tax-payers’ money so it helps reduce poverty, making the world a better place for us all. 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% of national income to 0.5% - is roughly the same as an increase, at the same time, for defence spending. Why is one affordable and the other not?”

Further information

Image: Crown Copyright