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UK Aid health cuts: 195 organisations call for reinstating of aid as 40% cuts are set to hinder COVID-19 recovery

The UK must reinstall the UK’s Official Development Assistance commitment to 0.7% to avoid loss of lives and decades-long rollback in global health, poverty and rendering impossible the ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 

The Action for Global Health network has today sent a letter to the Prime Minister signed by close to 200 international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and global health experts which calls for the immediate return of the UK’s Official Development Assistance budget to 0.7%.   

Using analysis and case studies from a range of NGOs this letter outlines the devastating impacts that these cuts will have on marginalised people globally. Analysis indicates that the reduction in global health spending represents a cut of up to 40%* (compared against 2019) – a devastating blow during a global pandemic and catastrophic to the COVID-19 response, prevention of future pandemics and delivery of essential health services globally.  

The impact of the cuts will undoubtedly be seen across the spectrum of health issues, and will impact interconnecting issues, such as girls’ education, gender equality and poverty. The cuts will lead to a rise in maternal deaths, preventable deaths of newborns and children and increased transmission of communicable diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and malaria.  

The cuts will also result in the removal of support for mental health services; reduced access for vulnerable and marginalised people to essential, quality health services (including sexual and reproductive health care services), weakened health systems globally, and; massively reduced research on global health threats. 

These cuts will disrupt the UK Government’s own G7 Presidency ambitions and the ability to deliver the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s strategic goals. These cuts also stand in stark contrast to other G7 nations. By comparison, the US have increased their funding to global health by 66% over the past year.**

At a time when COVID-19, future pandemics and climate change pose the greatest threat to the health of people in the UK and around the world, these cuts are short-sighted and will undoubtedly increase our own vulnerability. Whilst there have been fiscal restraints caused by COVID-19, cutting global health spending as a result of the pandemic is a particularly destructive example of robbing Peter to pay Paul.   

Given the positive, long-term impacts Official Development Assistance has had on the UK and beyond, we put forward that these cuts – which equal just 1% of the current UK deficit – will only cause harm to hard-won progress on global health and irreversibly damage the UK’s position as a global leader. The UK Government must urgently reconsider these cuts and reinstall the UK’s commitment to 0.7%.  

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK, said: “The Government’s nonsensical decision to slash aid for global health by 40% in the midst of a pandemic will have devastating consequences for the world’s poorest children and inhibit the global recovery from Covid-19. 

“Every other G7 nation is stepping up in the face of the pandemic and increasing their support for the poorest and most vulnerable people. The UK is alone in choosing to step back, even as it prepares to host the G7 Summit.  

“We urge the Prime Minister to do the right thing: urgently reverse these cuts, and reaffirm the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid.” 

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid, said: Without clean water, every challenge the global health community faces risks rapidly escalating into a crisis. 

“Investing in water and sanitation – which are the first line of defence against the twin threats of Covid-19 and the climate crisis – is one of the smartest investments to save lives now and prepare for the next pandemic.

“And yet, the UK government is doing the opposite, cutting funding to WASH projects by 80% If these savage cuts go ahead as planned, a staggering 10 million people stand to lose out on gaining access to clean water, somewhere to wash their hands or a decent toilet. The knock-on effects of this on the world’s health could be catastrophic.” 

Romilly Greenhill, UK Director of The ONE Campaign, said: “Cutting UK aid, money that’s intended to fight killer disease, in the midst of a pandemic is plain wrong.” 

Katie Husselby, Coordinator of Action for Global Health, said: “The UK’s rollback on its commitment to 0.7% will have devastating impacts in the fight for health for all, and will gravely impact the lives of marginalised people around the world for decades to come. Today’s letter, signed by close to 200 global health experts and organisations, indicates the strength of feeling on these short-sighted cuts that have astoundingly been made during a global pandemic.” 


*In 2019, the UK spent more than £2.2 billion on ODA to health. See combined health totals from Table A7 (bilateral aid by sector) and Table A9 (imputed multilateral share by sector) here. In his recent statement, the Foreign Secretary indicated only £1,305 million had been allocated to ‘COVID and global health’ in 2021/22. However, we should note that this figure does not include the health ODA spent by other government departments outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (the data is not yet available). 

**The 2021 budget for global health has been increased to $10b from $3.2b in 2020.  

In a written statement on 21st April 2021, the Foreign Secretary announced the Official Development Assistance (ODA) departmental allocations for 2021-22 for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). These allocations gave the first indication of the cuts to programmes as a result of the UK Government’s decision last year to cut ODA from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%. 

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