Foreign secretary Dominic Raab was accused of “sneaking out” the details on how the Foreign Office (FCDO) would allocate £8.11bn of the aid budget – 80% of the total spend – in the next year in a statement to parliament.
He did not reveal how much had been cut but analysis of the spending allocations for 2021/22 by Save The Children suggests spending on eduction for girls would be reduced by 25% compared to 2019/20 levels.
The charity also estimated that spending on humanitarian preparedness and response would be cut by 44%.
While directly comparable figures are difficult to find, the Commons international development committee (IDC) separately estimated similar levels (41%) of cuts to humanitarian preparedness and response.
Spending on Covid and global health was set to rise 12% compared to 2019/20, but would be 14% lower than last year, Save the Children said.
The charity based the figures from the FCDO’s reporting to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, using education projects marked as “gender policy” to obtain the figures on girls’ education.
It said the cuts left the government’s reputation for international leadership in aid “in tatters”.
The IDC said that girls’ education getting the second lowest allocation by thematic area was “disappointing”.
It comes after the UK scrapped its commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, cutting it to 0.5%.
The government is attempting to make the cuts without holding a parliamentary vote, amid the threat of defeat at the hands of rebel Tory MPs.
Commenting on Raab’s statement, Save the Children CEO Kevin Watkins said: “UK aid for humanitarian responses has been cut by almost half since before the pandemic and girls’ education, despite being a stated priority of the prime minister, has been cut by a quarter.
“When every other G7 nation is stepping up in the face of a global pandemic and increasing their support for the poorest and most vulnerable people, the UK is alone in choosing to step back, even as it prepares to host the G7 summit.
“These cuts will trim UK borrowing by a fraction, but devastate lives across many of the world’s poorest countries.”
IDC chair Sarah Champion said: “To sneak out a written statement at the end of the day shows a lack of respect for both parliament scrutinising these cuts and the aid organisations that are hearing about the spend for the first time only now.
“To say the statement is scant on detail is an understatement. Whilst we now have limited understanding on the areas the government is prioritising for its shrinking aid pot, we are still awaiting guidance on country-by-country allocations.
“People’s lives are directly impacted by these decisions and it is shocking that they still don’t have clarity they need.”
The Labour MP for Rotherham also said the committee “condemns in the strongest possible terms the magnitude of the aid cuts”.
“With our economy set to rebound sharply this year, the logic for the cuts to the world’s poorest is making less sense as time goes on,” she said.
Tory former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “These words hide the most draconian cuts ever made by Britain and they affect many countries where Britain has a deep and abiding relationship.
“There is little detail but we know that the cuts are close to 50%.
“This is a statement that should have been made to MPs in the House of Commons, rather than slipped out at the end of the day in a written communication.”
In his statement, Raab also revealed that aid to China will be slashed by 95% to less than £1m, although Champion said the fact the country was getting any money was “disappointing”.
Setting out the allocations, Raab said the government wanted to ensure that FCDO’s aid spending brought “maximum strategic coherence, impact and value for taxpayers’ money”.
“The resulting portfolio marks a strategic shift, putting our aid budget to work alongside our diplomatic network, our science and technology expertise and our economic partnerships in tackling global challenges,” he wrote.
“We will focus on core [government] priorities for poverty reduction, including getting more girls into school, providing urgent humanitarian support to those who need it most, and tackling global threats like climate change, Covid recovery and other international health priorities.
“Based on OECD data for 2020, the UK will be the third largest donor within the G7 as a percentage of GNI [national income].”
Sam Nadel, Oxfam’s head of policy and advocacy, said: “For millions of people around the world, today’s announcement will mean no clean water, no food when they are hungry and no medicines when they are sick.
“Ministers should urgently think again – keeping our promises to the world’s poorest matters more than ever in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Anti-poverty organisation One said the announcement makes “clear the government’s words are not matched by actions”.
UK director Romilly Greenhill said: “The cuts reveal a government which makes bold declarations about the importance of investing in girls’ education and preventing future health crises, but takes a scythe to the very projects needed to deliver on these ambitions – all in the midst of a pandemic and the same year we’re due to host major summits on these issues.
“The promised new era of British leadership is going to be very hard to deliver whilst we’re turning our back on the world’s most difficult challenges.”