Women’s health at risk from UK aid cuts, Foreign Office warned

UK Foreign Office ministers have been warned that planned aid cuts in 2023-24 could pose serious threats to women's health globally. The reductions could lead to hundreds of thousands more unsafe abortions and thousands of maternal deaths, according to an internal equality impact assessment conducted by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The planned spending of official development assistance (ODA) is expected to rise only slightly in 2023-24, before a 12% increase in 2024-25 to £8.3bn, a figure still short of pre-2020 levels.

The impact assessment detailed the potential consequences of the cuts on various groups, including women and girls in Afghanistan, where a 76% reduction in ODA could leave them without critical services amidst restrictive Taliban rule. Sexual and reproductive health rights in Pan Africa are also in jeopardy, with an estimated 60% reduction in results for women and girls due to reduced spending on the women's integrated sexual health programme. In Yemen, half a million women and children may be left without healthcare.

Foreign Office Minister Andrew Mitchell assured that the report played a crucial role in deciding funding allocations. However, some compromises had to be made due to limited funds. Mitchell outlined several funding uplifts targeted at the most vulnerable, including a £41m increase for Afghanistan and a £32m increase for Yemen's humanitarian response.

Despite these changes, Labour Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, expressed concerns over the adverse effects of the budget cuts, calling for the planned uplifts in 2024-25 to target those who have been most affected by these reductions.

A Foreign Office spokesperson reassured that UK aid spending would focus on programmes addressing humanitarian crises and protecting the most vulnerable, with the budget for low-income countries due to nearly double the following year.