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At the Global Education Summit on 29 July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that investing into education was “the single best investment we can make in the future of humanity.”
A week later, however, there is stinging criticism from Labour, after the summit missed its funding target by $1bn – raising $4bn over the next five years, as opposed to the intended $5bn.
Government sources point out that the target is a 5-year one, and say that at the last summit, not all of the money was raised in one go.
But the UK Government’s failure to galvanise support comes against the backdrop of Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget cuts, with the foreign aid commitment made in the 2019 Tory manifesto cut from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.
Labour has analysed the impact of the decision and found it will include education funding cuts of 28% this year.
Preet Kaur Gill MP, Labour’s Shadow International Development Secretary, said: “The Prime Minister talks about the importance of education while continuing with his plans to slash aid to education programmes. His blatant hypocrisy knows no bounds.”
“Under Boris Johnson, both our allies and detractors know that Britain is no longer interested in leading on the global stage. It’s little wonder that the UK has failed to galvanise other countries and raise $5 billion for global education.”
While stating the importance of an investment in education in the world’s poorest countries, the UK only pledged £430 million over five years at June’s summit of the G7 group of nations, falling short of the £600 million that advocates said was needed.
It has left non-governmental organisations forced to reduce their programmes providing education. According to Labour, among those that have been completely cut are:
- StirEducation, a primary education programme in Uganda
- UK Bangladesh Education Trust, which has put the entire organisation under threat
- EdUKAid Inclusive Education Project in Tanzania, meaning 300 disabled children will no longer receive support
- Investing in Adolescent Girls in Rwanda, a four year project that was due to reach more than 150,000 girls and 50,000 boys, including 8,000 adolescents with disabilities.
Labour’s criticisms have been echoed by NGOs, who said that girls would be disproportionately hit by the “devastating” cuts. Reports show that less than 40% of countries provide girls and boys equal access to education, that 9 million girls around the world will never set foot in a classroom, and 132 million girls are out of school.
James Harcourt, MSI Reproductive Choices’ Director of Partnerships and Philanthropy told PoliticsHome that an estimated 23 million adolescent girls want contraception, but have no access to it. “It’s important that governments and donors start to join the dots and recognise the critical role that reproductive choice plays in supporting girls’ stay in education,” he said.
The decision to cut ODA was taken because of the damage wrought to the UK’s economy by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Harcourt suggested that it meant there has been a double cut in place, one caused by the shrinking economy, and the other the 0.2% decrease in the annual aid budget.
He says it’s a false economy: “It costs MSI two pence per day to provide an adolescent girl with reproductive health services. That enables her to complete her education, pursue a career, and really start to break this cycle of poverty that generations of women in many societies face.”
“There’s a real risk that this will push gender equity back decades again, because we will re enter into another generational cycle of poverty, which will be extremely hard for women to get out of,” he added.
A recent written ministerial statement from the Foreign Secretary said the UK would focus aid spending on core UK government priorities for poverty reduction, including getting more girls into school and tackling global threats like climate change and the recovery from Covid-19. There has also been a boost in funding for education for children in conflict zones.
How the cuts to women’s programmes stack up:
However, Anna Darling from Plan International UK said the UK was the only government to cut its aid budget at a time of unprecedented global national crisis. She added: “This will impact millions of girls with disabilities and other learners who are most marginalised and under greatest risk of being left behind.”
She also outlined the increase since the start of the pandemic, in gender based violence, child abuse, unintended pregnancies, and the extra burden of care which often falls on women in the house and disproportionately on adolescent girls in particular.
Darling said schooling is a “revolving door” and “as their time in school is interrupted by different shocks and events and in this case COVID lockdowns, it places them more at risk of dropping out of school entirely.”
A spokesperson for Action Aid also said that there was a return on investment when it came to access to education – “each additional school year that a female adolescent can complete will push her earnings up by 20%”, while with better education young girls are less likely to give birth as teenagers, reducing infant and maternal mortality.
They added that with increased education there was a decrease in child marriages, while education helps women in poorer areas to take on leadership roles, including political positions.
There are also questions around the transparency of the cuts. Plan International UK suggested that the true figure of the education cuts could reach up to 40%. Darling said: “the government is lacking transparency, but at the moment we need the government to work with us and provide that transparency, for us to understand the scale and extent of the cuts.”
An FCDO spokesperson said: “$5bn has always been a 5-year target. At this Summit we secured unprecedented pledges from donors, providing the single biggest ever boost to children’s education opportunities around the world.
“The UK is the largest bilateral donor to the Global Partnership for Education’s replenishment. We committed £430m, which is our highest ever pledge with an uplift of 15%.”
Additional reporting: Adam Payne
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