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Fragile and Conflict-affected Countries: Education

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 20 April 2021

What steps the Government are taking to help ensure that children in fragile and conflict-affected countries can access education and learning. (914434)

Covid-19 has deepened the crisis in access to education and learning that children face, especially girls and especially in conflict. That is why Britain is championing two global targets to get 40 million more girls back into school and 20 million more reading over the next five years.

One in four school-age children globally—over 500 million children—already lived in a country affected by conflicts or climate-related emergencies before the pandemic. Violence against children in conflict settings is on the rise. More and more children are at risk of recruitment, sexual violence and attacks on their schools and hospitals. Will the Government commit to including those children and addressing the barriers to their learning in a specific target as part of the ambition to ensure 12 years of quality education for every girl?

My hon. Friend is right to point to this specific problem within the wider challenge of covid and the compound impacts in conflict situations. The support to fragile and conflict-affected states accounts for over 50% of UK aid to education through our country-led programmes. In 2020, we provided over £10 million in new funding to support refugee and displaced children’s education in some of the toughest parts of the world.

I am enormously proud of and grateful for the UK aid that goes to support the poorest children in the world. However, since 31 March, children’s centres, education projects and health facilities have all been forced to close, as Ministers have not signed off on funding agreements. My question to the Foreign Secretary is simple: when will he come to the Chamber and tell the House which aid projects are safe, what is going to be cut, the associated risks and the timeline and criteria he is using? Lives are literally at stake, and jobs are definitely hanging in the balance.

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee on International Development for what she has set out. I know that she has a passionate interest in this. Of course, we have taken a very careful approach to the allocations this year. I will be laying them in the House of Commons in the usual way, and I look forward to answering questions in her Committee on Thursday.

Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would endorse the safe schools declaration, which includes a commitment to the continuation of education in situations of armed conflict. This last year has seen the biggest global education emergency in our lifetime due to covid-19, and every other G7 member has responded to the pandemic by increasing aid. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the UK Government cutting aid to war-torn Syria and Yemen, described by UN Secretary-General António Guterres as a “death sentence”, and cutting spending on education by nearly 40% is undeniably a betrayal of the 75 million children in conflict-affected countries across the world who urgently require support to access education?

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s rather skewed caricature. We remain one of the biggest global donors of aid. In relation to the Global Partnership for Education, I can tell him that our commitment, which we will announce shortly, will increase.