The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has set back progress towards gender equality around the world. Women’s jobs are being lost faster than men’s, an additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty this year, and an additional 20 million girls – on top of the 131 million out of school before the crisis – may never return to education. Of even more concern is the recorded increase in violence against women and girls.
I know that the G7, currently chaired by the UK, has announced $15 billion in additional funding to combat gender inequality in the developing world. As part of this, the Government has pledged to spend £400 million on girls’ education as part of a global target to get 40 million girls back into school.
This funding is important, but the UK’s contribution represents a cut on previous years that contradicts the Government’s claim that it views girls’ education as a top priority. The UK’s contribution has been reduced because the Government has cut aid spending from the legally binding target of 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5% in 2021, despite its manifesto pledge to maintain the 0.7% commitment.
I oppose this decision which makes the UK the only G7 nation to cut its aid budget this year. I am that concerned it signals a retreat from the world stage and will make it harder for the UK to create a better world for us all. Alarmingly, Save the Children has estimated aid spending on education in 2021-22 will be 33% lower than in 2019-20.
In addition to the cut itself, I am very concerned about the Government’s refusal to allow MPs to vote on the cut, even though the 0.7% figure is enshrined in law and was promised in the Government’s manifesto.
Some MPs tried to secure a vote by introducing an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill on 7 June, however, the Commons’ Speaker ruled that it could not be debated because it was outside of the scope of the Bill. The Speaker added that the Government should allow MPs a chance to vote on the aid cut at some point.
The calls for a vote were repeated by MPs at an emergency Commons debate on 8 June, however, the Prime Minister maintains that no vote will be held.
I can assure you that I will continue to support efforts to hold a vote on the planned cut to foreign aid, and, given the opportunity, I will vote against the cut.