When Needed, The UK Backed Away

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There has been a lot of money spent this year in Britain. The Office for Budget Responsibility found that the coronavirus elicited £355bn of borrowed money from April 2020 to April 2021, before sliding back to £234bn this year. It’s the highest figure spent apart from wartime. The money borrowed primarily went into the NHS and furlough scheme, both of which seemed to keep us afloat through the pandemic.

To compensate and bounce back, Rishi Sunak announced a series of solutions to cut public spending. One of those ways was slicing into the percentage of the budget dedicated to international aid. Down to 0.5% from 0.7%, the reduction will take away £4bn of spending which has historically been spent on international projects targeting women and girls, water and sanitation, HIV/AIDS, and sexual health.

Britain has described herself as a global player, a global leader, and then ducked out when she was called upon. Press has focused on larger cuts made to well-known charities, but what about the hundreds of small charities, working in local communities around the world, who are losing their funding? What will happen to them?

“Small charities are embedded in communities,” Claire Collins, Trustee of Small International Development Charities Network (SIDCN) says. “Services and programmes are designed by or in partnership with the communities they serve. There is a huge amount of trust that these charities have built up with local partners, which can only happen through long term community lead initiatives.”

In March, small charities were informed by email that all funds had been pulled to small charities.

Just like that.

Mariam is an eight-year-old little girl in Uganda. Following an unusually poor harvest, Mariam’s family were struggling for money. When Mariam’s aunt came for a visit and offered to take care of Mariam and pay for her to go to school, the family quickly took her up on the offer.

Instead of being fed, bathed, clothed, and educated, Mariam was locked in her aunt’s house and told not to contact her parents. In a whirlwind, visitors came to the house and took Mariam away. She had no idea where they were taking her or who they were. She didn’t want to find out. She saw a chance to escape and jumped out of the car.

It was at this point that SALVE, a charity working with street-connected children and their families in Uganda, found Mariam and took her to safety to figure out what was going on. “At first, she was nervous of us,” Amy Calcutt of SALVE says. “But when she came to understand we wanted to help her go home, she was so happy. She couldn’t wait to see her parents and siblings again.”

When SALVE took Mariam home, they were preparing for her funeral, assuming she had been kidnapped and killed as a child sacrifice ritual. “They couldn’t believe she was still alive and everyone picked her up and carried her like a baby. The funeral plans turned into a big celebratory party instead.”

SALVE continues to work with the family to see how they can best support them.

SALVE had been granted a relatively small amount of money to grow their programme for girls on the streets. They projected the project would have reached 300 more girls with the grant. “These are some of the most vulnerable children in the world – who will now suffer as a result of these cuts,” Calcutt says. “These grants help some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. Whilst many of these communities haven't been affected significantly by COVID itself, they have been seriously affected by lockdowns and border closures - poverty levels have increased significantly, and children have missed out on even more education. Now is not the time to be making cuts and undoing years of hard work.”

Sailaja didn’t expect to be the carer for her husband. Five years ago, her husband, Hanumantha, was involved in a road traffic accident in India, leaving him paralysed from the chest down. To pay for his treatment, his family sold two acres of their land, but it didn’t heal him – he returned home bed bound.

The responsibility for Hanumantha’s daily needs and the already pressing needs of their two young children fell to Sailaja. She was exhausted from the physical and emotional energy exerted. Carers Worldwide had established partners in the area and invited Sailaja to a local carers group. She was able to share her struggles and receive support from the group. Carers Worldwide have provided her with a sewing machine through their livelhoods programme and she now works from home, earning enough to relieve financial pressures. Hanumantha received physiotherapy, a waterbed, and a wheelchair – all of which are giving him a happier, more comfortable existence.

Carers Worldwide is the only organisation working exclusively and strategically with unpaid family carers in the Global South. Their approach involves building local partnerships to implement their model, holistically transforming the physical, mental, social, and economic wellbeing of carers and their families.

“The project that we have had cut would have set up a free telephone helpline in Nepal to provide information, advice and psychosocial support for family carers and their disabled children.” Ruth Patil, Cofounder of Carers Worldwide. “It would have supported Nepali government efforts to promote health and wellbeing, reduce poverty and reduce inequalities. Many families containing a disabled family member and a carer live below or only just above the poverty line and their financial status is insecure. They also don't know where to go for accurate information and support for their child's disability. Providing access to information would have supported mothers emotionally and supported them to claim available social security support, thus providing greater financial security. We estimate it would have reached at least 2,000 carers in the first 18 months at a cost of less than £50,000.”

This is just a small picture of the projects that will not launch or continue as a result of the International Aid cuts.

“We have completely contradictory messages as the government promotes being a global leader but is abandoning the most vulnerable communities at the worst possible time,” says Collins. “They have misled and let down the sector.”

The UK Government may think cutting grants to small charities is insignificant. But small charities are the ones developing relationships in local communities. Patil says, “We are well placed to understand their needs and to work with them to find long term, sustainable solutions to the issues they face. Because we are small, we can respond flexibly and work cost effectively.”

Granted, there are people in the UK facing hell as last year finished and this year began. To support international work is not to ignore the immediate needs of home. It is up to us and the Government to figure out how we can do both – how we can care for the suffering here and the suffering there. Have a browse at what you can do by going to the links of the charities in this article.

You aren’t powerless. You can stand for change.

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