Foreign aid: Who will be hit by the UK government cuts?

By Reality Check team
BBC News

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image captionUK funds have helped deliver aid for Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar

There's growing controversy over cuts to UK spending on foreign aid.

The annual aid budget has been reduced from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income, and opponents of the cuts are calling for them to be reversed.

So where are they falling, and who is likely to feel the impact?

How much does the UK spend on aid?

Foreign aid has been increasing over the years, in line with a commitment to meet a target of spending 0.7% of total (or gross) national income (GNI).

The promise to meet this UN-backed target dates back to the 1970s, and was enshrined into law in 2015.

Last year, foreign aid spending fell for the first time in about a decade - although it still met the 0.7% target because the overall economy shrank due to the pandemic.

In November last year, the government announced as part of its spending review that it would reduce aid spending to 0.5% of national income due to the difficult economic situation.

"Our intention is to return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows," the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak said.

How does UK compare with other donors?

The government says the UK remains one of the largest aid donors in the world.

Before the cuts, it had the second highest contribution as a percent of GNI of the G7 group representing the world's leading economies.

Several other countries exceeded the UN aid target of 0.7% in 2020 - including Denmark (0.73%), Norway (1.11%) and Sweden (1.14%).

And as the UK looks to cut its budget to 0.5% of GNI, some developed countries have pledged to increase spending.

France has committed to a 0.7% contribution by 2025, and US President Joe Biden has proposed an increase in America's foreign aid.

Where does foreign aid go?

UK aid funding supports hundreds of different projects around the world.

The bulk of spending in 2020 - more than 55% - was in the Africa region and used for bilateral aid. That's aid earmarked for specific projects or programmes in particular countries.

Just under 39% was spent on bilateral aid for Asia, with much smaller amounts going to other parts of the world.

The bulk of these go into infrastructure development and initiatives to manage climate change risks.

Government figures for 2019 show that Pakistan was the top recipient that year of bilateral aid, followed by Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Syria.

Some UK money is also given to international bodies like the UN and others to spend as they see fit - this is multilateral aid.

In recent years, most UK aid has been bilateral (roughly two-thirds), rather than multilateral.

What's the impact of the cuts?

This is hard to quantify currently because detailed information about specific cuts to funding hasn't been made available by the government.

However, some charities as well UN agencies have already spoken out about the impact on them.

The UN's family planning agency (UNFPA) looks set to lose some 85% of its funding from the UK, a drop of about £130m.

"These cuts will be devastating for women and girls and their families across the world," the UNFPA said in a statement.

The UN's children's fund (Unicef) will see its funding reduced by about 60%

image copyrightUnicef/Naftalin
image captionSchoolchildren in Somaliland using a UN-funded washing facility

UNAIDS is also set to lose about 80% of its funding from the UK.

The World Health Organization's Global Polio Eradication Initiative will lose nearly all its UK funding, the body said in a statement.

The organisation says that UK funding will drop from £110m last year to just £5m this year.

What's the impact in specific countries?

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says its work in Syria has been severely impacted with up to 75% of the funding reduced from last year.

In Yemen, regarded as the world's worst humanitarian disaster, the UK's commitment to relief efforts for 2021 has gone down to £87.2m ($123.23m) from the £139.1m ($196.56m) that was pledged in 2020.

In Pakistan, the bulk of the money is spent on poverty reduction programmes, education, managing water resources, health and other humanitarian initiatives.

The nuclear-armed state has high levels of deprivation, with nearly a third of people living in poverty, and one in eleven children dying before they are five years old.

According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the cuts will have an impact on education, and nearly 11,000 girls in rural Pakistan may not attend school if the funding stops.

In a letter accessed by the BBC, eight non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide humanitarian aid to Bangladesh's Rohingya refugees say UK funding of £321m has been cut by 42%.

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image captionEducation in Nigeria is one of the areas supported by UK aid funding

In Nigeria, funding goes to projects on financial inclusion, food, education, health care, solar energy for schools and hospitals, electoral processes and civil society organisations.

Women for Women International - Nigeria says the UK has terminated a three-year grant agreement that was "halfway through" implementation.

"I have never encountered a situation in which a funder...reneges on its promise part way through," says Bukola Onyishi, country manager for the NGO.

What does the government say?

A statement by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in April laid out priorities for his department (which accounts for about 80% of total foreign aid) in terms of themes such as climate change, Covid and girls' education.

He also said that the UK would be the third biggest donor in terms of percentage of GNI based on 2020 data, but did not refer directly to the reductions in spending.

The government has also defended the move as a "temporary measure" on the grounds that at a time of economic difficulty, UK voters would expect priority to be given to domestic spending.

Research by YouGov last November around the time of the announcement of the cuts showed that two-thirds of the UK public supported reducing spending on foreign aid.

A survey done this February showed more than 70% of Britons believed it should be either stopped or reduced given the impact of the pandemic on the UK's finances.