The government’s cuts to UK aid will lead to the preventable loss of life around the globe
"Abandoning this critical manifesto commitment signals that the UK government is no longer committed to playing its part to create a healthier, safer world," write Conservative MPs Stephen Crabb and Pauline Latham | PA Images
Covid-19 has taught us that we cannot abandon the fight for health. To renege on our manifesto aid commitments at this time is unthinkable
Today, billions of people still don't have access to the basic health services they need. These populations continue to be denied opportunities like receiving medicines for treatable diseases, giving birth safely and leading healthy lives. Tomorrow, Universal Health Coverage Day, draws attention to these people and the global goal of strengthening health systems to work for everyone.
The UK government committed to this goal last year at the first ever UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, with former secretary of state for international development Alok Sharma labelling it a “smart investment”.
While it was backed by ample political support at the time, there is growing concern that the movement is losing steam. Amidst the backdrop of a pandemic, exacerbated by issues that have defined weak health systems for decades, there has never been a more important time to make sure universal health coverage is moved higher up the agenda.
And yet, the one-year Spending Review saw the Chancellor recently announce that the UK’s aid spending will decrease from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%. The commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI was designed so that the aid budget would shrink if we faced an economic downturn. As such, abandoning this critical manifesto commitment signals that the UK government is no longer committed to playing its part to create a healthier, safer world.
In the next five years, an additional 6.5 million people may die of tuberculosis because of the disruption caused to critical health services this year
It also raises alarming questions about the impact of this reduction on more than half of the world’s population still without access to essential, quality health services, and whose health needs are being neglected due to the Covid-19 pandemic response.
Already, we have seen the impact of Covid-19 taking its toll; a recent global survey from the World Health Organisation found that every type of health service has been affected by Covid-19, including cancer diagnosis and treatments. In the next five years, an additional 6.5 million people may die of tuberculosis because of the disruption caused to critical health services this year. Several agencies have warned that up to 80 million children under the age of 1 are at risk of missing out on routine immunisation, due to disrupted services.
These budget cuts will undoubtedly lead to further, preventable loss of life. This announcement shows the UK government reverting on both our manifesto commitment to 0.7%, as well as weakening our promise to ‘end the preventable deaths of mothers, newborns and children’ and to ‘lead the way in eradicating Ebola and malaria’.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Historically, the UK has played a prominent role in progress for global health. Since 2015, UK Aid has brought life-saving treatment to over 369,000 infants in Nigeria, protected 10 million people in 10 countries from blindness and trained hundreds of doctors in Somaliland - which has one of the worst doctor to patient ratios in the world. There are countless more examples of where UK Aid has transformed the lives and life-chances of the most vulnerable and marginalised. Confronting diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is an essential part of supporting a stable and prosperous world. The UK’s ongoing efforts on global health will promote development and ensure we achieve Global Goal Three: good health and well-being for all people by 2030. We should be proud of the role the UK has played, working in unity with other countries to deliver the universal right to health.
A relentless commitment to this right is one that should be upheld at all times, and most especially during a global pandemic. Ahead of a year in which the UK can drive progress for universal health coverage during their presidencies of both the G7 and COP 26, now is not the time to step away.
Stephen Crabb is Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire and Pauline Latham is Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire