There will be UK aid cuts this year, Anne-Marie Trevelyan confirms

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, U.K. secretary of state for international development. Photo by: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — The U.K. government will cut some aid programs this year while pausing and shrinking others, the country’s secretary of state for international development confirmed Monday.

DFID seeks cuts of up to 30% on aid projects

The government says it hasn't made any decisions yet, but NGOs say they are already being asked to make cuts to existing programs.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan told U.K. politicians that a “mammoth” review process had been underway to identify where reductions could be made.

More than £2 billion ($2.5 billion) could be lost from the budget due to the struggling economy, according to Trevelyan, but she said the precise size of the cut was a “moving feast” and “very difficult to judge,” acknowledging that “it is going to have impacts.”

Speaking to parliamentarians, she said: “Nothing has been off the table. We’ve looked at every part of our spending to find areas where we could make — if possible — reductions or delays, rather than permanent cuts.”

The impacts are likely to be widely felt across the U.K.’s diverse development sector, of which the Department for International Development is a key funder of both NGO grants and private sector contracts.

Nick Dyer, DFID’s acting permanent secretary, said: “Given the size of this potential cut or pause, the budget reduction — I think there is some inevitability. And I think [we] just need to be realistic about this. A whole range of potential suppliers will be impacted.”

But he added that “we are still going through the process of decision-making.”

The confirmation comes a week after Devex revealed that some charities are already grappling with reductions in funding for this year. The U.K. government’s aid budget “will be smaller this year and probably next,” Trevelyan told the International Development Committee, a cross-party group of politicians who monitor aid spending and DFID’s work.

“We’ve looked at every part of our spending to find areas where we could make — if possible — reductions or delays, rather than permanent cuts.”

— Anne-Marie Trevelyan, secretary of state for international development, DFID

The aid budget is tied to at least 0.7% of gross national income, which will fall this year in cash terms as the country’s economy suffers amid the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike the budgets of other government departments, official development assistance spending runs from January to December, meaning that “tough decisions” need to be made to keep it at 0.7% of GNI in 2020, Trevelyan said — although aid advocates point out that the 0.7% figure is a minimum, not a maximum, and that the government could choose to spend more on aid if it wanted.

“We are being guided by the Treasury on financial management,” Trevelyan added.

Asked what criteria the government will use in allocating reductions, Trevelyan said humanitarian work was “top of the list,” followed by health care work — in particular, its COVID-19 response and then preventable diseases, including vaccinations. However, development insiders say that efforts in conflict-affected countries including Yemen, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are among those threatened with cuts.

Trevelyan added that work on girls’ education and climate change — key development policy priorities of the government — will also be protected, as would the “most vulnerable countries.” Dyer added that DFID’s thematic work could be examined and asked Trevelyan if she would like to take into account the effects on the U.K.’s national interest, although she did not respond.

It is also possible the U.K. could delay, pause, or push back some multilateral funding, Dyer said. The U.K.’s development finance institution, CDC Group, could also be in line for a budget cut, Trevelyan said.

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.