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£460 million for Syrian Refugees - news from the Spending Review

Olivia Darby - Director, The Wonder Foundation.

George Osborne has promised £460 million to support the resettlement of 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK. The provision of asylum to these refugees was committed to weeks ago and it is good to see that the Government is budgeting for their requirements. The money will be drawn from the overseas aid budget and used by 2019-20 to resettle "the most vulnerable Syrian refugees". It will "cover the full first year costs to ease the burden on local communities".

However, this still raises questions:

  • How will the Government determine which refugees are "the most vulnerable"? Many of the most vulnerable refugees have not been able to pay traffickers to reach Europe and some minorities are too scared to move to mainstream refugee camps.
  • If the money is to cover the full first year of costs, and it is to be spent by 2020 i.e. 4 years from now, it raises questions about how vulnerable refugees will be supported in the meantime and the UK's role in alleviating the refugee crisis. If military action can be taken quickly in Syria, why can't humanitarian action?
  • What will the "full first year costs" include? It would not be a stretch to consider that the most vulnerable refugees from Syria might have extensive support needs e.g. counselling, therapies and, as we have been campaigning for, learning English so that they can integrate. Will these be covered? It is a false economy not to invest in refugees' futures.

Additionally, it is curious that the government is committing to continuing the British Council's funding to teach English abroad, but not to teach it to refugees living in the UK. As their reason for funding English teaching abroad is to "project the UK’s values and influence", surely this is just as important, if not more so, with vulnerable groups from overseas living within the UK?

Learn more about our campaign for English teaching for vulnerable female refugees like Yvonne here.

In brief: other interesting points in the Spending Review for WONDER projects:


It is interesting to see that the VAT row over sanitary products has had an impact - one of the few mentions of women in this budget. The Government has committed to donating "£15 million a year, equivalent to the annual VAT raise "to women's charities". The Government has already committed £5 million in donations to The Eve Appeal, SafeLives, Women’s Aid and The Haven. It will be interesting to see how they define women's charities going forward, and whether there will be opportunities for smaller charities to access this funding. 

Forty million pounds has been committed to "services for victims of domestic abuse" as part of their violence against women and girls strategy. However, from the strategy it is unclear how much of this money would be spent on direct support and how much of this budget would be spent on guidelines, training for health workers, campaigns and research. 

Overseas Development Funding

The Government has committed to spending 0.7% of the UK's GNI as Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), aiming to support poverty reduction and align "aid spending with the UK’s national interest". We know that for overseas development to create sustainable, positive changes, local people need to make the changes their own. We hope that the alignment of aid spending with UK interests does not mean the imposition of values outside of the sphere of universal human rights promotion and will include close working with local people already working to create positive change in their countries. Similarly, we hope that the Governments targets on schooling for children, immunisations, access to water and sanitation and improved nutrition will be delivered as far as possible by local people in ways that create long-term improvements. 

We are happy that the Government has committed to improving the transparency of their funding overseas - it is disappointing that the UK is not already leading by example in this field. 

We are interested to see that other Government departments will also be administering and awarding overseas funding alongside DfID and wonder what this will mean for interventions overseas in terms of delivery, practice, and engagement with local people. 

Vocational and Technical Training

WONDER works with a number of vocational and technical education (VET) providers in the UK and overseas. We know from experience that well-run vocational and technical education and apprenticeships can lead to sustainable routes out of poverty through access to meaningful work and good jobs.

We are happy to see that the Government has committed funding to technical education and support for learners. It will interesting to see which skills are seen as "crucial to our productivity agenda" by the Government and whether this will mean cuts to other types of VET. We are happy that funding for apprenticeships is ringfenced.

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