International charities dismayed at foreign aid cuts

The U-turn on the commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of government spending on foreign aid has created uncertainty for many charities. Clare Wearden, Director of Village Water, which supports local organisations in Zambia and Mozambique, describes the damaging impact of this decision.

Three people walking on a large beach, carrying bundles of sticks
Clare Wearden

The UK Government’s recent cut to the foreign aid budget has provoked a period of uncertainty for charitable organisations, with many seeing the withdrawal of existing grants and the subsequent cancellation of planned projects.

Getting a project approved by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is a lengthy process. The planning stage is unfunded, but yet, a successful outcome makes this worthwhile. To be granted the funding for a project, only to have it revoked by the Government, is therefore incredibly disappointing.

While Village Water was lucky not to be directly hit by the first round of cuts, with our current project with the UK Government remaining safe, all application rounds for funding that we are eligible for have been suspended. 

The impact of this will certainly be felt in the future, as, like countless other charities, we must work to replace government funding with other income streams, such as trusts, foundations, and individual philanthropy, all of which have been hit heavily by the Covid pandemic.

As a small team based in Shrewsbury supporting ambitious projects in Zambia and Mozambique, we’ve always been hugely proud of the UK government’s commitment of 0.7 per cent of GNI to the international aid budget. 

Five prime ministers have kept this enshrined in law. Indeed, we have twice been able to access significant funding through the UK Aid match programme. 

This scheme enables smaller charities like us to reach more beneficiaries, improving health through access to the basic rights of safe water and improved hygiene/sanitation facilities. Never has it been more obvious that we need to ensure universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene in the fight against Covid-19.

Like every other international charity, we were dismayed at the Government’s U-turn, with this change set to impact the poorest and most vulnerable, regardless of its permanence. 

With the UK hosting the COP26 and G7 Summits later this year, this is the Government’s time to step up and affirm the country’s status as a global player, committed to tackling the major issues our world faces – poverty, climate change, disease, and conflict.

Instead, the U-turn on a manifesto commitment sees the UK turning its back on the world's poorest, despite being aware of the uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought for so many. Millions are being pushed into poverty due to the pandemic, now facing further aid cuts as a result of the UK abandoning the 0.7 per cent aid commitment. 

The commitment has been one of the few things uniting the current Parliament, with MPs collectively understanding that helping others, as well as our own, is morally, economically, and politically the right thing to do.