UNISON opposes drastic cuts to UK aid budget

Lifesaving support for water, sanitation and hygiene will be reduced by 80 percent, which will have a devastating effect on countries across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic

Hands under flowing water

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea has written to Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs to express ‘deep concern’ at the government’s proposals to drastically cut the UK aid budget for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as well as the contribution to the United Nations Population Fund for work on sexual and reproductive health.

Recent reports state that lifesaving support for WASH will be reduced by 80 percent, which will have a devastating effect on countries across the world, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter from UNISON said: “The right to clean water and sanitation is essential for the achievement of all other human rights.”

The letter continued: “Access to clean water and sanitation are essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19, so it is particularly concerning that this decision has been made at a time when cases are increasing in many countries.

“The decision also takes place ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow in November, for which the UK holds the presidency.

“There are already over three billion people affected by water shortages worldwide, and the impact of the climate crisis will be far more severe for vulnerable communities whose rights to water and sanitation are undermined.”

In an article in the Guardian, the chief executive of WaterAid Tim Wainwright said: “There is never a good time to cut aid for lifesaving water and sanitation but the middle of the worst pandemic for 100 years must be one of the worst.”

However, it’s not just hygiene and sanitation that will be impacted. The government has also reduced its pledged commitment to the United Nations Population Fund for work on sexual and reproductive health by 85 percent.

UNISON’s letter continued: “As governments have reorganised their health priorities to respond to the pandemic, other essential health services have been deprioritised, particularly where health systems are weak.

“In many countries women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services have particularly been affected, further undermining women’s rights and gender equality, which have already been exacerbated during the pandemic. This decision will only worsen that situation and will have a devastating impact on women and girls, particularly in some of the world’s poorest countries.”

In response to the proposed cuts, former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “We are balancing the books on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world and it is a matter of national shame for our country to be slashing spending in this way.”

Christina McAnea concluded her letter to Raab saying: “We urge you to reverse these draconian cuts and use this unique opportunity to demonstrate global leadership by investing in quality, gender-responsive public services, including health and WASH, as the most efficient and effective way to address these multiple crises and drive the recovery.”

UNISON head of international Nick Crook said: ”

“These drastic cuts to water and sanitation, sexual and reproductive health and many other vital areas could not come at a worse time for the communities who need them most. Instead of cutting aid the government should be investing in quality public services as the most effective way to address the poverty and inequality that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”