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What we know about the UK government's overseas aid cuts

Yemen's capital Sanaa. More than 2,300 children were killed between 2018 and 2020
Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

The United Nations has revealed that the UK government is to slice more than £100 million from its contribution to tackling global child deaths and unsafe abortions.

With a drip-feed of reports about the government's proposed aid cuts emerging in the press in recent weeks, here is what has been claimed - and countered by ministers - so far.

- Firstly, why is aid spending being cut?

Economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has led the government to shelve its manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, cutting that to 0.5%.

The government expects just under £10 billion to be allocated to departments for aid spending in 2021/22.

- Where is that cash likely to be spent?

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab set out in a written statement how £8.11 billion of the aid budget will be allocated by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) - approximately 80% of the total UK spend - including £906 million for humanitarian preparedness and response.

Work involving that money will focus on countries most affected by risk of famine, including Yemen, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan.

But senior MPs, including former Conservative international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, were unhappy with the manner of the declaration, accusing the government of attempting to announce foreign aid cuts on the quiet.

Mr Mitchell criticised Mr Raab for having "slipped out" details of reduced spending rather than announcing it in front of MPs in the House of Commons.

- What has been cut so far?

Funding for China will be slashed by 95%, with official development assistance departmental allocations (ODA) for 2021-22 cut to £900,000 - although there will be some additional money this year to meet former contractual agreements, the government said.

A leaked memo, meanwhile, has suggested that the UK will slash bilateral funding for overseas water, sanitation and hygiene projects by more than 80% in a move WaterAid described as "savage".

The memo said the UK's water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) budget faces an overall cut of 64% in 2021/22 compared with 2019, with bilateral aid funding for clean water scaled down by 80%.

Separately, a report by industry-focused media outlet Devex said ministers are planning to peg back funding for polio eradication by 95%.

- Is that the full extent of the cuts to aid?

It doesn't seem so. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said today that the government's expected contribution to its flagship programme for family planning this year will fall from £154 million to £23 million.

The 85% cut to the UK's contribution has been described by UNFPA as "devastating" for women, girls and their families around the world, with the cash originally earmarked to prevent tens of thousands of maternal and child deaths, millions of unintended pregnancies and millions of unsafe abortions.

The organisation said that, in addition, £12 million is to be cut from the UNFPA's "core operating funds" and that several country-level agreements are also likely to be affected.

- What has the government said about the reported cuts?

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has called the cut to foreign aid "perfectly lawful", while Mr Raab has denied sneaking out the cutbacks, arguing that his department acted in a "fully transparent way" over the recent announcement.

When previously asked about the reports, an FCDO spokeswoman said: "The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.

"We will still spend more than £10 billion this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health.

"We are working through what this means for individual programmes. Decisions will be announced in due course."

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