It has been a troubling week for Oxfam. An investigation by The Times has alleged stories of serious sexual misconduct committed by aid workers in Haiti including former country director Roland van Hauwermeiren.
The investigation has led to calls for taxpayer aid to Oxfam to end and the resignation of Deputy Chief Executive Penny Lawrence. Allegations continue to come to light with many corporate donors reconsidering their ties to the charity. International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has also announced the charity is to stop bidding for Government funding. Additionally, this crisis has reopened the debate about foreign aid.
The legal commitment from the Government to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid has been criticised by many on the right of the Conservative Party and some national newspapers. A recent Daily Express petition headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and delivered to 10 Downing Street called on the Government to stop the 0.7% target. Both The Sun and The Daily Telegraph have also openly questioned whether the time is now right to scrap the target. The argument is straightforward; our aid is wasted and goes to the wrong people; charity starts at home or simply we can’t afford it.
Scrapping the 0.7% target would be one response to the Oxfam crisis, but it would not be the correct one. Aid is not a perfect science. Too often the money does not get to the right people. There are many things which can be improved about how and where we deliver our aid. It is also right that Oxfam are properly investigated and are prevented from bidding for Government funding until they prove they have cleaned up their act. But, please let’s not forget the good our aid can do over the world.
If you don’t believe me, read this article from Will Quince, Conservative MP for Colchester about how aid can save lives or this defence of foreign aid by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. It is easy to believe the stereotypes without actually looking at the real life impact aid is having.
Any decision to scrap aid would be an insular decision and would be based firmly on the wrong arguments and the wrong conclusions. How we choose as a nation to spend our money says a lot about our priorities. Choosing to spend this money on those in need and more vulnerable than ourselves is something we should be proud of. And although it is not fashionable after this week to defend aid, it is still the right thing to do.