A group of philanthropic organisations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are donating £93.5 million to support life-saving projects impacted by UK aid cuts.

The UK government announced in November last year that it was cutting the amount commited to overseas aid from 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) — an amount the UK is committed to by law — to 0.5% of GNI. This translates to an expected cut of at £4.5 billion compared to the year before. 

Although the funding from the organisations has been welcomed, it’s important to note that it represents only about 2% of the amount that has been cut.

In the past few months, further details of the projects that will face the axe have emerged, many of which are in women’s health and efforts to fight Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDS).

The group of donors also includes the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the ELMA Foundation which provides grants supporting children and young people in Africa, and the Open Society Foundations. They said the cuts mean medicine is at risk of passing expiry dates and they want help ensure that women living in the poorest parts of the world can avoid unplanned pregnancies.

A spokesperson for the consortium of philanthropists, Kate Hampton, chief executive of the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, told the BBC: "These life-saving treatments are cost-effective investments. If they go unfunded this year, British taxpayer generosity will be wasted as clinics are closed and essential drugs expire and are thrown away.”

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides family planning services and maternal healthcare in low-income countries, has seen its funding from the UK aid budget slashed by 85%, from £154 million to £23 million this year.

Meanwhile, a programme run by the non-profit MSI Choices, helping teenage girls stay in school by providing free contraception and sexual health clinics, has been told it will receive no funding this year.

The UK is also exiting its pioneering programme to stop NTDs, called the Accelerating the Sustainable Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ASCEND) programme, which was due to run until March 2022.

NTDs are largely preventable diseases afflicting the poorest parts of the world. The UN has said the removal of aid funding for the ASCEND programme could cause up to 30,000 needless deaths.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the news of emergency donated funds was welcome, but the government should still restore its 0.7% aid budget promise.

“This emergency funding is welcome and desperately needed, but I continue to pray for the restoration of our promise to those living in extreme poverty around the world, which was to love them as our neighbour through our commitment to the 0.7% aid spending target,” he said.

Many Conservative MPs who have been critical of the aid budget cuts echoed his statement in response to the announcement. Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East, said: “in the spirit of global Britain let’s recommitment to 0.7% and move forward.” 

Baroness Sugg, a Conservative member of the House of Lords and former international development minister, said on Twitter that organisations stepping in was “only a temporary solution."

The Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, told the Sunday Times: "When Britain withdraws, others step in. By cutting our aid, we have given states such as China and Russia an opportunity to expand their influence at Britain's expense."

In response to the announcement, a government spokesperson said: "The UK will spend more than £10bn to improve global health, fight poverty and tackle climate change this year — making us one of the biggest aid donors in the G7.” 

"We have always been clear that the government will return to spending 0.7% of GNI on international development as soon as the fiscal situation allows," they added. 


Defeat Poverty

Bill Gates Among Philanthropists Donating Millions in Emergency Funds to Cover UK Aid Cuts

By Helen Lock