NGOs dismiss 'shocking' UK claim that 'no one is going hungry' over aid cuts

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Photo by: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND

NGOs have dismissed a claim made Thursday by U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that “no one is going hungry because we haven’t signed checks” as “shocking” and “simply not true.”

Aid organizations are still grappling with funding uncertainty — despite being weeks into a new financial year — and have said they are gravely concerned about the impact their programs will feel from U.K. aid cuts, including in Syria, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Despite a ministerial statement released Wednesday outlining the broad themes of aid spending for 2021-2022, NGOs still remain in the dark about how their programs will be affected, as no detailed comparison was provided with the previous year.

“The ongoing opaque nature of these cuts devastate the UK’s reputation and contrary to the Foreign Secretary’s assertion … children and their families will go hungry,” Jean-Michel Grand, executive director at Action Against Hunger, wrote to Devex.

Raab’s comments came during a meeting with the International Development Committee of politicians who monitor U.K. government development policy.

Sarah Champion, IDC chair, said: “I’m conscious the poor are getting poorer and humanitarian disasters getting worse, and we’re not doing amazing work this country has always done and is well known for. … In Syria, for 22 days, a leading aid organization hasn’t had funding because ministers haven’t signed it off. … At the moment, people are going hungry because we’re not signing off checks.”

Raab said he did “not accept” Champion’s comments, describing them as a “headline view.” “No one is going hungry because we haven’t signed checks. That’s just not true,” he said.

“The ongoing opaque nature of these cuts devastate the UK’s reputation and contrary to the Foreign Secretary’s assertion … children and their families will go hungry.”

— Jean-Michel Grand, executive director, Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger’s Grand said Raab’s comment was “simply not true.” He wrote: “Right now in the DRC, 27 million people are going hungry, and 22 days into the new financial year our teams are still waiting for assurances on their funding. Health centres will close. Lives will be lost.”

Sultana Begum, Yemen-based advocacy manager at the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Devex that “in a context where millions of people are on the verge of starvation — these are the words used by U.K. government officials themselves — that is quite a shocking statement [from Raab].”

The United Kingdom’s nearly 60% aid cut to Yemen “means helping less people” Begum said. “It’s shocking the U.K. government who has fueled this war have cut their aid at this critical time, and millions of people are at starvation basically.”

There are 2.9 million people going hungry in Burkina Faso, according to Grand, and 5.1 million people experiencing food insecurity in Nigeria — a 34% increase from 2019.

He continued: “Both countries have been identified as being most at risk of slipping into famine and yet, the government says it will pivot its aid towards East Africa. While the UK is leading action on famine prevention at the G7 [group of leading industrial nations’ summit] this year, it now appears to be threatening aid cuts to the fragile West African region.” He said the cuts were also likely to undermine the United Kingdom’s diplomatic goals.

Country allocations of aid spending will only appear in annual statistics due in 2022, according to Raab. He said information on individual programs would appear on Development Tracker, a government website that monitors aid spending, and in so-called supplementary estimates — documents produced by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office detailing changes in spending. However, Raab was unable to give a timeline. The foreign secretary warned that it was “not realistic to think any country will be entirely immune from the [budget] changes.”

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Country-specific plans were still being worked out by FCDO, according to Raab, who added that the department was “in the middle of firming up those programs.” He was unable to say when the process would be completed. Prior to its merger into FCDO, the Department for International Development produced advance multiyear plans for individual countries it worked in.

Pauline Latham, a member of Parliament, was being texted during the IDC session by NGOs denying that they were consulted by FCDO on the aid cuts, as claimed by Raab. Latham read out a text that said, “As far as planning is concerned, it's like planning for the future by chucking darts at a board while blindfolded.”

“You’ll always find NGOs that will be critical” when savings are being made, Raab said, maintaining that consultations had taken place. “I do understand the pressure and uncertainty it creates for NGOs,” he added. “We value those partnerships.”

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.