HIV activists slam Tory government’s continued ‘silence’ after Rishi Sunak’s ‘ominous’ budget

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak holds the Budget box outside 11 Downing Street in central London

The “clock is ticking” for the Tory government after Rishi Sunak failed to deliver on an increase to crucial HIV funding.

Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer and thought to be the richest sitting MP, laid out a vision for Britain’s battered post-pandemic economy on Wednesday afternoon (27 October). One that, it seems, does include cheaper sparkling wine but is severely lacking a commitment to ending new HIV infections.

More than 1,000 days have passed since the government committed to ending Britain’s HIV epidemic by 2030.

But during the Autumn budget and spending review, the chancellor of the exchequer did not mention any plans for the Treasury to finance the HIV Action Plan, touted as a way to bring new transmissions to a standstill.

Tory government once again ignores HIV epidemic in Rishi Sunak’s 2021 Autumn Budget

In a joint statement to PinkNews, three of Britain’s top HIV advocacy slammed the government’s “silence” on the matter.

If the government does not fund the plan by 1 December, they warned, efforts to end HIV infection rates will certainly be hobbled. One that would be a major reversal of fortune considering the surge in the number of people getting tested for HIV since Russell T Davies’ groundbreaking It’s a Sin aired.

“The government was silent on funding for HIV and ominous on public health,” the Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and Elton John AIDS Foundation said.

“If it is serious about ‘combating health disparities’, it must fulfil its commitment to end new cases of HIV by 2030 by funding an ambitious HIV Action Plan by 1 December this year.

British prime minister Boris Johnson and Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak visit 'Fourpure Brewery'

In the government’s budget, cheaper draft beers but no more money to end HIV. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“The end of the HIV epidemic in England is possible, and it’s affordable. But it won’t happen without radical action.”

With around 160,000 Britons living with HIV and an estimated 6,600 living undiagnosed, per data from Public Health England, pressure has long simmered for the government to strengthen its approach to tackling the epidemic.

In 2019, the government said it would use £600,000 from Public Health England’s HIV Prevention Innovation Fund to help curb HIV rates. But two years down the line, and next to no progress has been made.

Since March, the HIV Commission, a panel of leading HIV health experts and advocates, has called on the public to send letters to Sunak, health secretary Sajid Javid and local lawmakers to make good on their promise to enact the HIV Action Plan.

Activists have demanded that the government increase access to “life-saving treatments” for Britons living with the virus, which includes stepping up the currently threadbare mental health support currently available.

New national HIV prevention programmes and campaigns stressing the Undetectable=Untransmittable messaging must also be rolled up, the letter added.

“The focus is now on Sajid Javid and the department of health and social care to invest early and keep their promises on ending HIV cases by 2030,” the advocacy groups added in their statement.

“The clock is ticking.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told PinkNews: “HIV is a cruel and devastating illness and we remain absolutely committed to eliminating all new transmissions in England by 2030.

“We are making good progress against that target – cases fell by more than a third over the last five years and we have once again this year met tough UNAIDS targets for the proportion of people being tested and treated effectively.

“We have provided £34m over the last two years to ensure anyone at high risk of contracting HIV can get prevention drugs for free from their local sexual health clinic that reduce their risk of getting the virus.”