No impact assessment ahead of Yemen aid cuts, UK official admits

FCDO Minister James Cleverly speaks at a conference. Photo by: Isabel Infantes / Reuters

There was no impact assessment carried out to evaluate how vulnerable people would be affected by the United Kingdom’s aid cuts to Yemen, a Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office official has admitted.

Asked repeatedly by politicians how reducing the aid budget to the country — experiencing what is widely labeled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — would impact women, people with disabilities, and people displaced within the country, Chris Bold, FCDO Yemen development director, said, “We haven’t done an impact assessment.”

FCDO cut aid to Yemen by nearly 60% at a United Nations pledging conference in March. It was the first glimpse of the aid cuts the government is working on, after announcing in November it was moving from the legally enshrined aid spending target of 0.7% of national income to 0.5%, leaving a £4.5 billion hole.

“We know that cutting U.K. aid to countries like Yemen will have catastrophic effects, but it beggars belief that the FCDO is making these cuts without doing a proper assessment of their impact,” said Alastair Russell, spokesman at Save the Children UK.

“Decisions like this have to be taken on the basis of evidence to reduce the damage they’ll do to vulnerable people, as well as to maintain value for money for taxpayers. Years of progress are at risk of being reversed by a sudden ending of funding to programs without thinking through the consequences,” Russell added.

Laurie Lee, chief executive at CARE International UK, which runs cash transfer programs in the country, said: “U.K. aid in Yemen sought to ensure women and disabled people were targeted. Cutting this aid without making efforts to ensure they are not disproportionately affected contradicts U.K. government commitments to leave no one behind.”

Speaking to the International Development Committee of members of Parliament, which monitors development policy, FCDO Minister James Cleverly defended the government’s actions. The situation “does not lend itself to impact assessment in a normal year,” he said. “It’s not possible for anyone to predict exactly how the situation will play out in Yemen because there are a number of factors in play.” He cited Britain’s “lobbying efforts” with international partners as one such factor.

In a tense session with MPs, Cleverly and FCDO officials were also unable to provide details on how the cuts were decided or what justifications were given to reduce spending in certain areas.

UK's aid budget to Yemen slashed by nearly 60%

Aid budget cuts will hit the world's worst humanitarian crisis hard, in a move that's caused outrage across the political spectrum.

FCDO has faced widespread criticism from development advocates for its approach to the spending cuts, along with accusations of inadequate transparency. There is little known about the internal decision-making around funding cuts, though FCDO’s chief economist made some remarks about the process during a panel discussion with a Devex journalist in December.

NGOs, many of which are heavily dependent on U.K. government funding for their programs, have widely decried the alleged lack of government consultation in cutting the aid budget.

Cleverly said that while FCDO speaks with “our delivery partners on an ongoing basis,” he added that “we can’t consult with them because we’re having to make financial decisions, not just within particular geographies but across the whole of FCDO. Where we have been able to give useful indications to help them plan, we have done so.”

Pressed by MPs on the severe uncertainty many NGOs face because of the aid cuts, Cleverly promised: “We can’t give complete certainty at the moment, but as soon as we are able to do so, we will. … We are trying to get through this as quickly as possible.”

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.