UK aid cuts will mean 700,000 fewer girls get an education, NGOs say

Girls in school in Pakistan's Punjab region. Photo by: Usman Ghani / DFID / CC BY

Cuts to the United Kingdom’s aid budget will result in 700,000 fewer girls receiving an education, according to an analysis endorsed by a host of NGOs.

The government is still refusing to disclose exact reductions in aid funding to different sectors like education and humanitarian aid after chaotic budget cuts that are yet to be completed despite being around six weeks into the new financial year.

The analysis, conducted by Save the Children, found that education and humanitarian funding “which targeted gender equality was cut at a higher rate.”

The U.K. government is heavily promoting its girls’ education agenda — having launched a publicity campaign ahead of the June G-7 summit and Global Partnership for Education Summit, which it is co-hosting with Kenya in July. The U.K. targets of getting 40 million more girls into school and another 20 million reading at the age of 10 by 2026 have been adopted by the G-7.

But the targets are a stark contrast to the impact of reducing the aid budget from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%. In rural Pakistan, up to 11,000 young girls could lose schooling as a direct result of the funding cuts, according to the International Rescue Committee.

“You can imagine their future hanging in the balance.”

— Adnan Junaid, Pakistan country director, International Rescue Committee

“We were asked in March to pause the programming, and we are still waiting to hear whether the second phase of funding will come through or not,” Adnan Junaid, IRC’s country director for Pakistan, told politicians on Tuesday. “If it doesn’t come through, 11,000 girls will not be able to go into school.”

IRC’s education programming takes place in the Balochistan region of Pakistan, where girls face high marginalization and barriers to education. Junaid said IRC had made “great” improvements due to UK aid funding, but it took one and a half years of preparatory work with the government and communities to ensure girls would be allowed to come to school.

“You can imagine their future hanging in the balance,” without U.K. government support, said Junaid. “I think the aid cut is quite significant — especially for our 11,000 girls.”

Experts say G-7 'makes no sense' on girls' education amid UK aid cuts

A U.K.-led declaration from the G-7 comes in the same week that NGOs are discussing how to close down ongoing education projects after their aid funding was canceled.

The at-risk IRC program is the largest girls’ education project publicly revealed to be affected by the aid cuts — though questions remain over the fate of other significant programs, like the Girls Education Challenge. Launched in 2012 to run for 12 years, the Girls Education Challenge was the U.K.’s main program for supporting girls’ education in Africa and South Asia, but government reassurance over the program’s future has been lacking.

Devex has reported on the cancellation of a smaller program which sent teachers to mentor young girls forced into domestic labor in Bangladesh.

Education aid spending is expected to receive a 40% cut in total, according to the analysis.

“Despite this being a stated priority of the Prime Minister, [the cut] reveals a worrying contradiction between rhetoric and reality and the sector is extremely worried about the implications for areas which have not been championed politically,” stated a briefing by CARE UK and other major NGOs, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Plan UK, and Women for Women International.

The briefing said the “apparent bias of the aid cuts” toward programs that support gender equality “will do long term harm to these efforts.”

A Government spokesperson said the U.K.’s education targets were “ambitious.” In an emailed statement, the spokesperson added that “girls’ education remains a major priority for this government.”

Update, May 19, 2021: This article has been updated to reflect a response from FCDO and that the U.K.’s girls’ education targets have been adopted by the G-7.

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.