UK Aid cut: A serious implication for the commitment made at the ICPD25 Nairobi Summit

This blog was written by Dr Tigist Grieve, Senior Research Associate in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol and Member of Bristol Poverty Institute’s (BPI) Advisory Board. It was posted earlier in the summer on the University’s International Development Research Group blog, and has been reproduced here with their kind permission.

The University of Bristol’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Law International Development Research Group was recently approached by the BBC for their views on the UK Aid cut. Professor Guy Howard, Global Research Chair Environmental and Infrastructure Resilience and BPI Advisory Board member, outlined how the impact of the reduction will be devastating for those most impoverished.

Funding cuts in the middle of a global pandemic, as the public sector is struggling and where health care provisions are stretched, is detrimental to those already most marginalised and at-risk including girls and women in low income countries. Despite the renewed commitment from the UK at the 2019 International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi – the ICPD25 Nairobi Summit – the withdrawal of funding to organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) halts the progress made so far in advancing the rights and dignity of women and girls globally.

Professor Isabella Aboderin (with microphone) contributing to a round table discussion at ICPD25. Professor Aboderin is Perivoli Chair in Africa Research and Partnerships at the University of Bristol.

The University of Bristol (UoB) is a founding member of the UNFPA’s University Network, TransformU, and UoB’s researchers and its Perivoli Africa Research Centre were at the UK “On the Road to Nairobi UNFPA ICPD25” Parliamentary Reception hosted by Baroness Sugg CBE at the House of Lords. UoB’s researchers subsequently shared their work on sexual and reproductive health and rights at the Nairobi summit as well as at a “Translating commitments to actions” side event at the Aga Khan University.

Dr Susan Jim sharing University of Bristol research at the Aga Khan University. Dr Susan Jim is Manager of the Perivoli Africa Research Centre and Development Manager of the Worldwide Universities Network at the University of Bristol.

The ICPD25 Summit catalysed significant economic and political commitment to build on the progress made since the inaugural ICPD Summit in Cairo to help accelerate the UNFPA’s “3 Zeroes Agenda“. While many areas are affected by the UKAid cuts, the significant drop in funding to the UNFPA and others will pose a serious challenge in translating these important commitments into action.

Jassi Sandhar, PhD researcher in International Law at the University of Bristol, shared her research, drawing on her work in Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Uganda. Title: ‘I am free from the conflict now, but I do not feel free’ (Jassi Sandhar in collaboration with Geoffrey Omony, YOLRED).

 

Dr Tigist Grieve shared her work drawing on adolescent girl’s voices on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Title: Seeing the Social (Dr Tigist Grieve in collaboration with Dulce Pedroso A Thousand Words).

 

The team also shared the work of Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) and responded to questions and answers from various scholars on the work of BPI.

 

Julio Mkok, Dr Susan Jim, and Jassi Sandhar (all University of Bristol) at the Nairobi Summit with Matt Jackson, third from the left (Director, UK UNFPA, London Office).

You can read Professor Guy Howard’s interview with BBC Newsbeat as part of the following article ‘UK foreign aid cut: Where does it go and what is it used for?‘. Professor Howard is co-lead of UoB’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Law International Development Research Group, interim Director of the Cabot Institute for the Environment, and a member of the BPI Advisory Board.

The unequal pandemic: Are we really all in it together?

This blog was written by the authors of the Unequal Pandemic: Clare Bambra (Professor of Public Health, Population Health Sciences Institute at Newcastle University); Katherine Smith (Professor of Public Health Policy at University of Strathclyde); and Julia Lynch (Professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania). It was originally posted on the blog Transforming Society and has been re-posted here with their kind permission. 

In 1931 Edgar Sydenstricker identified inequalities in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, reporting a significantly higher incidence among the working classes. This challenged the widely held popular, political and scientific consensus of the time that ‘the flu hit the rich and the poor alike’.

In the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, there have been parallel claims made by politicians and the media – that we are ‘all in it together’ and that the COVID-19 virus ‘does not discriminate’.

But we can dispel this emerging myth of COVID-19 as an ‘equality of opportunity’ disease, by showing how, just as 100 years ago, the pandemic is experienced unequally across society. COVID-19 and inequality are a syndemic – a perfect storm.

The syndemic of COVID-19, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the social determinants of health.

Our new book delves into international data and accounts, reaching the conclusion that the pandemic is unequal in four ways:

The pandemic kills unequally: COVID-19 deaths are twice as high in the most deprived neighbourhoods of England than in the most affluent, and infection rates are higher in the more deprived regions such as the north-east of England and in urban areas. There are also significant inequalities by ethnicity and race, with the mortality of ethnic minorities in the UK considerably higher than expected, and the death rates of black Americans in US cities such as Chicago far higher than for their white counterparts. This is because of the interaction of the pandemic with existing social, economic and health inequalities.

The pandemic is experienced unequally: the COVID-19 ‘lockdowns’ have resulted in a significant increase in social isolation and confinement within the home and immediate neighbourhood for an average of 10–12 weeks. The social and economic experiences of this lockdown are unequal, as lower-income workers are more likely to experience job and income loss, live in higher-risk urban and overcrowded environments, and have higher exposure to the virus by occupying key worker roles.

The pandemic impoverishes unequally: COVID-19 and the lockdowns have resulted in an unprecedented shock to the economy with widespread predictions of the worst recession for 300 years. This economic devastation will result in job losses, wage reductions, higher debt and more poverty, as well as increases in the ‘deaths of despair’. However, the social and geographical distribution of these economic impacts will be unequal – with low-income workers, women and ethnic minorities bearing the brunt.

These pandemic inequalities are political: the unequal impacts of COVID-19 were not inevitable – the pandemic was a predictable event and its unequal effects could have been mitigated or avoided through better preparation. The original inequalities leading to these unequal impacts were a result of prior political choices, and policy makers could have chosen to address the unequal impacts of the pandemic or not. Governments responded differently and those countries with higher rates of social inequality and less generous social security systems had a more unequal pandemic.

So, COVID-19 is a syndemic of infectious disease and inequalities. It has killed unequally, been experienced unequally and will impoverish unequally. These health inequalities, before, during and after the pandemic are a political choice – with governments effectively choosing who gets to live and who gets to die. Our book concludes by showing how we can learn from COVID-19 quickly to prevent inequality growing and to reduce health inequalities in the future.

Clare Bambra is Professor of Public Health, Population Health Sciences Institute at Newcastle University.

Katherine Smith is Professor of Public Health Policy at University of Strathclyde.

Julia Lynch is Professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania.

This post was originally written for the blog Transforming Society and has been re-posted here with their kind permission.