This week the UK government confirmed it has reduced funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2021 by 85%. As the specialised UN agency focused on sexual and reproductive health, UNFPA works to promote sexual and reproductive rights for all and provides access to vital health services such as maternal health care.
The UK government plans to cut its committed funding to the UNFPA Supplies programme, the flagship programme for family planning, from £154 million to around £23 million. This alarming step back from a commitment agreed in 2020 comes alongside a cut to UNFPA’s core funding by 60%, from £20 million to £8 million.
In a statement, UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said:
These decisions directly undermine the Government’s claim that girls’ empowerment and gender equality is a key global priority for the UK. Further, the cut suggests that government actions are not following the priorities outlined in the UK’s recent Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, which says Britain will “promote gender equality, working with women’s rights organisations”.
Moreover, this slash in funding is the latest in a series of such decisions that has seen a 54% aid cut for Yemen, 93% for the Sahel region, 95% cut to polio eradication efforts, and 80% aid cut in water and sanitation, all as a result of the Government’s recent decision to reduce the UK’s aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.
In our recent publication “Sustainable Development Goals”, Dr Kanem highlighted the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the world’s most vulnerable people and called for urgent acceleration in efforts to build societies that are more protective, and health systems that are more inclusive. In the global efforts to build back better from this pandemic, it is vital that countries who have the financial resources, and who aspire to a global leadership role, like the UK, play their part.
It is especially concerning that these cuts take the form of the Government’s decision to step back from agreed commitments. In doing so, the UK risks sending a message to the global community that it is not a partner that upholds its obligations.
As recently as October 2020, the UK was rightly praised as a world-leading supporter of reproductive rights and the UNFPA, after a pledge to support the Agency with £425 million until 2025. It is vital that the UK continues to grant its support, political and financial, to multilateral institutions, and in particular to the United Nations system. As highlighted in our response to the Integrated Review, while the UK has recently set out aspirational ideas for its global role, achieving those objectives will require that remaining resources are firmly targeted at upholding the UK’s stated commitments and priorities as a champion of our multilateral system.
Photo: Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, speaks at the opening of the fifty-second substantive session of the Commission on Population and Development. c. UN Photo/Loey Felipe