Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about UNICEF’s campaign to put children’s access to health, education and welfare at the heart of this year’s G7 discussions.
I believe there is a real and present danger that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a generation of children whose opportunities are permanently damaged. For example, lockdowns have interrupted the schooling of over a billion children worldwide, and 30 million may never return to full time education. I am especially concerned about the estimated 20 million secondary school-aged girls who could be forced out of school permanently due to the impact of COVID-19.
I note that the G7 has recently announced $15 billion in support for women in developing countries alongside initiatives to boost girls’ education. However, at the same time, the Government has reduced aid spending from the legally binding target of 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5% in 2021. This is despite its manifesto pledge to maintain the 0.7% commitment. I oppose this decision which makes the UK the only G7 nation to cut its aid budget this year. The head of the charity MSI Reproductive Choices has argued it will jeopardise the UK’s commitments on girls’ education and increasing resilience to the climate crisis.
On access to coronavirus vaccines, in my view we will not be safe from COVID-19 until everyone is safe. Faced with an unprecedented global pandemic, the Government should work to ensure access to vaccines is based on need. Therefore, I support fairer vaccine pricing and the sharing of intellectual property to ensure the faster development and distribution of vaccines.
More widely, I am concerned at reductions in British Government support for vital coronavirus research. For example, a project tracking COVID-19 variants in India has had its funding reduced by 70%. I believe this undermines our attempts to tackle the virus and track new variants, making us all less safe. Ahead of hosting the G7 summit and COP26 (the United Nations Climate Change Conference) this year, we must lead by example, reverse the reduction in aid spending and not abandon our responsibilities to the world’s most vulnerable.