The recent cuts to UK aid have impacted many conflict-affected parts of the world, and were abrupt, seemingly arbitrary, and left little to no scope for conflict sensitivity in their implementation. Peacebuilding organisations Conciliation Resources, International Alert and Saferworld state that the cuts will undermine the trust between partners, communities and authorities, as well as trust in international partners and the UK as a donor. Ultimately, they will weaken groups’ and institutions’ ability to contribute to peace.
Overall, the UK has cut £4.1 billion from its aid budget compared to the 2020/21 allocation, a significant amount of which will impact efforts to prevent, reduce and resolve violent conflicts.
There are different ways of measuring cuts to the UK’s contribution to conflict prevention efforts but each paints a devastating picture. Bond has calculated an approximate £896 million cut to UK government work on conflict and open societies. Saferworld has calculated that the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) has been cut by almost half a billion pounds (£492 million) from 2020–21 to 2021–22 including at least £348.9 million of the CSSF’s Official Development Assistance (ODA). Open Democracy and Channel 4 reported cuts of between 50% and 90% to UK aid to conflict affected countries (which may encompass humanitarian, development and peacebuilding work) including South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Funding cuts to Yemen and Syria have already been confirmed.
The UK's cuts of half a billion pounds to the CSSF are at complete odds with the approach of UK’s international partners, including the US where President Biden has asked Congress to increase funding to stabilisation, resolving conflict, atrocity prevention and human rights by $2.2billion (roughly £1.5 billion).
These cuts come despite the UK government's Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, which sets out key objectives ‘to support open societies and defend human rights’ and ‘tackle conflict and instability’ within its Strategic Framework.
Even cuts to the work of these three leading peacebuilding organisations have a damaging ripple effect on local organisations and communities’ ability to address the causes and consequences of the insecurity around them.
Conciliation Resources, International Alert, and Saferworld have been affected by a comparatively small, but still devastating part of the overall cuts to programming addressing conflict. A total of £6.1million cuts to existing or agreed projects affecting programming in seven countries: Myanmar, Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Somalia. As a result, at least 23 partner organisations from these countries will have to wholly or partially suspend their vital work. They include women’s organisations, national development organisations, legal associations and youth networks. In turn they will be unable to support the activities of over 85 community groups, youth associations and local peace committees. And hundreds of thousands of people may themselves lose out on the potential to live safer lives.
Women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria will be affected. Their reintegration and trauma recovery has been set back by the discontinuation of what was a flagship project funded by CSSF. Local civil society organisations in Myanmar will be affected. They are struggling to respond to the increasing security threats, the military takeover and increasing levels of violence. Local peace committees in Central African Republic working to transform broken relationships between local communities will be left without valuable training or support in preventing tensions escalating to violence.
If the experience of these three organisations is replicated across the many millions cut from UK peacebuilding and stabilisation funding, it is fair to assume that the UK's contribution to peace and stability has been severely downgraded.
The government is working on a Conflict Strategic Framework and new aid strategy, which may go a little way towards mitigating the damaging impact of these cuts. There is scope to improve the way UK aid works and this strategy could look at addressing conflict sensitivity, gender mainstreaming, racism in the aid sector and localisation, as well as to reduce the harm that UK arms sales and security interventions have overseas. The strategy should prioritise investments in developmental approaches to conflict, such as conflict resolution, peacebuilding and mediation, and support the priorities and sustainability of local organisations within conflict-affected communities.
The Integrated Review seeks to renew the UK’s commitment to being a force for good in the world, ‘defending openness, democracy and human rights’ and seeking multilateral solutions. If this is to be more than an aspiration the Government can start by resuming the level of aid investment in peace and conflict prevention efforts commensurate with its G7 status and in line with other donor countries and institutions. Global insecurity is felt most acutely by the most vulnerable, and the UK needs to show that it is behind those who are committed to and working for more peaceful societies.