The United Nations children’s agency has warned of “serious consequences” for vulnerable infants around the world after learning that the UK plans to shrink its core funding by around 60% to £16 million.
Joanna Rea, director of advocacy for UNICEF in the UK, said she understood the government had to make difficult choices on where to spend a reduced overseas aid budget because of the economic hit from the pandemic.
"But we were hoping that these cuts would not fall on the shoulders of the world’s children," she told Sky News.
Core funding enabled UNICEF to respond swiftly to the most pressing "education, protection and health needs" of children impacted by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the organisation said in a statement published on its website.
"Any cuts to these funds will have serious consequences for children," it said.
The cuts are part of a move by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to axe more than £4billion from its annual overseas aid budget following a decision by the government to reduce an aid-spending target to 0.5% of national income from 0.7%.
Many charities and UN agencies are being affected, with the real-world impact on lifesaving programmes to counter health, education and development emergencies in the poorest parts of the world slowly emerging.
UNICEF said the UK government had informed it on Friday of the planned reduction in core funding this year to £16 million from £40 million in 2020.
"We are deeply concerned by this decision," the agency said.
Ms Rea said the impact of the cuts is still being worked out, but the UK is one of UNICEF’s biggest donors.
"There is never a good time to cut support for children but doing so in the middle of a pandemic makes it much harder for children around the world," she said.
The agency expects additional cuts to other areas of funding, which cover specific themes such as access to water, sanitation and hygiene and education as well as bilateral projects involving individual countries.
"We are very worried about what that means," Ms Rae said.
The UN agency said in its statement: "It is too soon to know the full impact that this and future UK funding cuts will have on UNICEF programmes. However, we worry that children living in some of the world’s worst crises and conflicts will suffer the consequences."
UNICEF said that it would continue to engage with the UK on a shared agenda for children around the world, adding that it hoped the government would meet a commitment to return to spending 0.7% of national income on overseas aid "as soon as possible."
UNICEF said that core funding enables the agency "to be present on the ground before, during and after emergencies, allowing us to direct resources for children where they are most needed".