Impact of Cuts on UK’s Official Development Assistance Budget on Child Labour

The recent statement from Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, regarding cuts to the UK’s official development assistance (ODA) budget has been met with controversy. The commitment to spend at least 0.7% of the UK’s Gross National Income (GNI) has been enshrined in law since 2015, but this will be cut to 0.5% as of 2021/22. This represents around a £5 billion decrease, which has been described as ‘devastating’ by major international foundations in a letter recently shared to the UK government.

While ministers have argued that the 0.7% policy is hard to ‘justify’ given the current financial situation, Baroness Sugg, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development, resigned from her position and called the decision ‘fundamentally wrong’. Ministers like Baroness Sugg have highlighted the increased need for ODA and international cooperation during an unprecedented global crisis, but ministers have justified their decision as a ‘tough’ choice.

Alongside cuts to the ODA spending statement, the pandemic has  increased concern over a rise in child labour figures. Evidence from major child labour charities in India suggest that the pandemic has triggered an unprecedented increase in child labour in the country.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), Save Childhood Movement, a major organisation seeking to ‘create a child-friendly world where all children are free from exploitation and abuse’, declared that from April to September, they rescued over 1200 trafficked children . Most of these children were being forced to work illegally in factories and farms and were mainly aged between 8 and 18. Dhananjay Tingal, Executive Director of BBA, called this spike ‘unlike anything he had seen before.

Similarly, Prabhat Kumar, Deputy Director of Save the Children India, highlighted evidence suggesting that the demand for cheap labour has increased dramatically during the pandemic – and unfortunately, child labour is a common source. 

Emma Wagner, Senior Education Policy and Advocacy Advisor at Save the Children,also emphasised the economic impact of the pandemic on children and families experiencing forced labour. Wagner suggests that as a cause of the pandemic, school attendance has decreased, and more children are becoming involved in labour.  

With this in mind, it is particularly problematic that the UK government has decided to withdraw significant funding from ODA, a move that will inevitably impede the global mission to eradicate child labour. Pressure has also come from modern slavery and justice organisations, in the form of an open letter published on the 7th June 2021 to G7 Heads of State and Government. 

During the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, these senior leaders highlight the need for G7 states to reassert their commitment to the eradication of child labour – not only through verbal declarations but through funding pledges.

If the UK is to remain committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ending child labour in all its forms by 2025, it must reconsider its decision to redirect funding from international aid policies. Yet this decision perhaps represents a growing need for individuals, private institutions, and corporations to take responsibility for the eradication of child labour within their own supply chains.  

At HACE, we urge key decision-makers to use evidence and data effectively if they are to alleviate child labour. At a time of growing international concerns around the UK government’s commitments to its ODA pledges, we must all evaluate our capacity to instigate meaningful change in any way possible.