Libya floods: UK Government cuts to overseas aid ‘disastrous’ for those in need

A watchdog said the cuts to foreign aid had damaged the UK’s reputation internationally

The UK Government's cuts to international aid are "drastic and highly disruptive" and have damaged its reputation in the world, an independent watchdog has claimed.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report into UK aid effectiveness found diverting civil servants to work on Brexit had "deprioritised" aid, including projects working with the UN on humanitarian crises, while cuts had been impaired the UK’s ability to respond to global crises.

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In a review of the four years since the commission was appointed, the watchdog also criticised the "disruptive" merger of government aid arm DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – a move the chair of Westminster’s International Development Committee branded as a “bad move, at a bad time”.

Overseas aid budget cuts have hit the UK Government's ability to respond to humanitarian crises.Overseas aid budget cuts have hit the UK Government's ability to respond to humanitarian crises.
Overseas aid budget cuts have hit the UK Government's ability to respond to humanitarian crises.

The watchdog said overseas aid work had been impaired by a lack of clear long-term strategy, with continual changes of direction driven by short-term financial imperatives amid a volatile political and economic context in the UK, as well as a changing global environment, hit by worldwide problems such as the Covid pandemic.

Overseas aid charities warned the cuts meant marginalised groups, including refugees, and women and girls, are “paying the price of government mismanagement and decision making”.

Halima Begum, chief executive at ActionAid UK, said: “The findings of the ICAI review are nothing short of disastrous for those whose lives are supported by UK aid. They also represent a serious setback for a country whose competence and commitment to delivering international aid made us a world leader.

"Sadly, this report reveals that over the last three years since DFID was dismantled, the FCDO has presided over a series of cuts and own goals that leave little doubt Britain’s reputation in the world has been diminished and sent progress in areas like gender equality into reverse.”

The report highlights the UK’s support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was cut by 85 per cent in 2021 – the second biggest of any of the cuts. UNFPA estimates if these funds had been provided by the UK Government as pledged, they could have averted 47 million unintended pregnancies, 813,000 maternal and child deaths and 14.4 million unsafe abortions.

IDC chair, MP Sarah Champion, said: “This independent review underlines what has become sadly apparent over the last four years – the FCO DFID merger was a bad move, at a bad time, that has brought few detectable gains. Coming alongside ongoing cuts to the UK aid budget, it has broadly undermined the UK’s international standing and the impact of UK aid spending.

“The Government’s mean-spirited use of our reduced ODA budget on a dysfunctional asylum system in the UK has spectacularly backfired, and by the FCDO’s own assessment its budget cuts are disproportionately hitting women, girls and disabled people – people who are already the poorest and most marginalised in the world.”

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Ms Champion added: “The UK previously led the way with a commitment to ODA funding and policy that could begin to address the great sustainability challenges of our time. The risk now is that we are reduced to achieving short-term, transactional goals, facilitating diplomatic access. It’s time to begin to unpick this and return UK ODA spending to where it can make the most positive difference.”

The criticism of aid cuts comes as Libya tackles a major humanitarian crisis, with rescuers finding more than 2,000 bodies in the wreckage of Derna where floodwaters broke dams and washed away neighbourhoods.



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