Should we bin foreign aid?

The scandal surrounding overseas charity workers is being used as a pretext for demanding cuts to the aid budget. Matthew Partridge reports.


Rees-Mogg: opening up a new front in the culture wars
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2018 Shutterstock. No use without permission.)

"Every year we continue to pile 0.7% of our GDP into aid, no questions asked, so that we can stand up at international conferences and say we're doing our bit'," says The Sun. Yet this cash "is ploughed into vanity projects that do little to help the world's poorest" while "overpaid and underworked consultants" live "the high life at our expense". The shocking revelations about high-level Oxfam workers using prostitutes is the last straw. It's time "to bin the spending target".

"Britain's huge aid budget, much of it spent through charities such as Oxfam, is not exactly popular... at a time of tight spending controls at home," admits William Hague in The Daily Telegraph. Yet rapid population growth in Africa and the Middle East means we are about to witness "potentially the greatest migration humanity has ever known". Development aid isn't the whole answer, but if we want to avert this population explosion and "give young people the opportunities they need in their own countries", then we need the rest of Europe to spend more on aid, "rather than cut back on what we are doing ourselves".

"Predatory behaviour" by charity workers is "peculiarly repellent", says Zoe Williams in The Guardian. But the Oxfam scandal has become "a fresh front in a culture war", with the likes of Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg trying to use it to shut down foreign aid altogether. "Nobody whose serious interest is in the welfare of the girls and women of Haiti and Chad wants to see aid workers shut up shop and go home."

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Still, this doesn't mean there should be no consequences, argues The Independent's Sean O'Grady. To prevent wider damage, the government should make clear that "the £32m a year Oxfam currently receives will be wound down". After all, if this was the corporate sector, it would "lead to a slump in the share price, closures and redundancies, or even complete corporate collapse".

While this may seem harsh, the charity War on Want "had to go through a similar process, albeit for very different reasons" in 1991. And it's not as though the immediate loss of government funding would be fatal to Oxfam, argues The Times. Taxpayer funding accounts for about a tenth of its revenue, which it could recoup by cutting back on advertising and photoshoots, rather than front-line relief. But the task of rebuilding trust in both the charity and in Britain's aid policy "will take years".

We must honour Brexit vote, says Boris

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has set out his vision for Britain's departure from the EU, the first of five planned speeches by senior members of the government. He warned that overturning the Brexit vote would "lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal". But he reassured the wary that "Brexit need not be nationalist but can be internationalist; not an economic threat but a considerable opportunity; not unBritish but a manifestation of this country's historic national genius".

Yet if Johnson wants to make a success of Brexit, "he needs to engage seriously with what the actual fears of the actual people who voted Remain are", argues Stephen Bush in the New Statesman. Instead he delivered "45 minutes of flannel about John Stuart Mill". For example, he failed to acknowledge that the only way to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland "is a significant measure of customs and regulatory alignment, which Johnson appeared to rule out".

But don't overlook the fact that "the real audience were the fellow members of the Brexit inner cabinet", argues The Spectator's Tom Dunn. Johnson "made quite clear that the idea of the UK being a rule-taker in large sectors of the economy to minimise friction in trade was unacceptable to him". While the speech hints there could yet be "room for compromise", this was a reminder of how hard it will be for Theresa May to get the Brexit inner cabinet to agree on a position.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri