Daily Mail and UKIP slammed for ‘disgraceful’ attack on overseas aid

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A campaign by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Daily Mail newspaper to divert Britain’s overseas aid budget into domestic flood relief has been condemned as “disgraceful” by Lord Deben, the former Conservative environment minister known as John Gummer.

Aid agencies, MEPs and officials from the EU and UN also told EurActiv that such a move would breach Britain’s international obligations.

The UKIP leader Nigel Farrage, riding high in polls for European elections in May, first raised the issue on a visit to flood-hit parts of Somerset last weekend, saying it would take “a tiddly per cent of the overseas aid budget” to help flood victims.

The rightwing Daily Mail, Britain’s second-best selling newspaper, then picked up the issue running a front page editorial yesterday (11 February) calling on its readers to ‘put UK flood victims first’ and “tell the PM where our foreign aid is needed” in a petition they initiated.

The tabloid, which has often championed climate-sceptic positions, railed against “waste” in the UK’s €13 billion aid budget and called for the money to be spent at home.

“Britain has given hundreds of millions towards flood relief overseas,” the editorial said. “Today, it is our own people who are enduring the misery, and the Mail believes there could no better use for the aid budget than alleviating Third World conditions at home.”

But the hint of a gathering bandwagon around an issue which had previously been the domain of the far right sparked condemnation across the political board.

“It is a disgraceful proposal to take from the poorest people on earth in order to avoid paying the cost of flooding from Britain’s own resources, resources which the Prime Minister has already promised,” Lord Deben told EurActiv.

Significant aid successes

Since 2000, overseas aid spending has notched up some significant successes. It has funded the vaccination of 440 million children against preventable diseases and the immunization of 2.5 billion children against polio.

Aid spending has also provided anti-retroviral drugs for 6.1 million people and helped detect and treat 11.2 million cases of TB worldwide. Much of this work has taken place under the aegis of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015.

European aid in particular has helped almost 14 million new pupils enroll in primary education and connected more than 70 million people to improved drinking water, since 2004, according to the European Commission.  

“You simply cannot compare the resources of the UK with those of the poorest countries in the world, where they go to bed hungry, lack any access to water, sanitation, electricity,” Alexandre Polack, an EU development policy spokesperson told EurActiv.

Claims of waste were “simply not true,” he added.

One UN official said that channeling overseas aid into domestic flood relief would risk isolating the UK in talks about a post-2015 successor to the Millennium Development Goals, which Prime Minister David Cameron previously chaired.  

'Perversion of intent'

“Overseas aid is part of the UK’s foreign policy and how they position themselves in the world and contribute to development discussions on the post-2015 dialogue,” the source said. “How can they contribute to that if they have no money to offer the causes that may arise out of that by 2015?”

“Overseas aid is meant for overseas,” the official continued. “If we spent it on national issues, it would be a perversion of its original intent and a breach of regulations governing that part of the budget.”

Headlines in the UK have been captured by the floods which have submerged large parts of the country’s southwest, and thousands of homes have been evacuated from towns around the River Thames.

But Prime Minister Cameron clarified yesterday [11 February] that the question facing his government was “not either protecting our overseas aid budget or spending the money here at home.”

“What we need at home will be spent here at home,” he said.

EU Solidarity Fund

Graham Watson, the Liberal Democrat MEP for the UK’s storm-battered southwest said that there was little support in his constituency for the Daily Mail’s campaign.

“Most people recognise that it is an attempt to mix chalk and cheese,” he told EurActiv. “We have a duty to help people in difficulty everywhere and our aid budget is being extremely well spent.”

Watson queried why Farage’s “blind opposition to everything European” prevented UKIP from supporting a relief application to the EU’s solidarity fund.  

“I have been pressing the government to make an application and they have three weeks left to do so,” he said. “I have had talks with the Commissioner and with government ministers and I am [still] hoping they will. At present, the Treasury is resisting as we will lose some money from our rebate, but there would still be a net gain for the UK and as taxpayers have paid into the fund I think we should be taking advantage of it.”

Oxfam said that money should be redistributed from the UK’s wealthiest population sectors to help alleviate suffering in the sodden flood plains.

British bankers had received more than €70 billion in bonuses since the onset of the financial crisis – far more than the UK’s aid budget – according to a statement by the aid agency.

“At the same time billions of pounds of tax are dodged by companies and individuals who are not paying their fair share,” Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy and advocacy said. “The choice should never be between helping those overseas or people in the UK, when there’s enough money to do both.”

Positions: 

Asad Rehman, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth told EurActiv that UKIP’s efforts would be better spent on supporting policies to reduce the planet’s addiction to dirty energy. “It is the height of irony that the very parties that deny climate change is happening are now calling for vital overseas aid from some of the world’s poorest countries to be diverted to deal with its effects,” he said.

Timeline: 
  • 2017: Britain to hold an in/out referendum on EU membership if David Cameron is re-elected
External links: 

European Commission

British political parties

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Comments

Mike Parr's picture

"Call me Dave" has said the following:

"My message to the country today is this. Money is no object in this relief effort, whatever money is needed for it will be spent. We will take whatever steps are necessary. We are a wealthy country and we have taken good care of our public finances".

The flooding that affected 1000+ homes near Newcastle (Dec 2013) had relatively little media attention & even less from "Dive" (well they vote Labour up North) - by contrast when Tory-Vermin voters are affected - then resources are not a problem.

A request to the Kippers: can we have another Shipping Forecast.

Paul Latham's picture

Whilst Lord Deben, aka John Gummer, may complain about the suggested switch of funds earmarked for 'Overseas Aid' towards flood relief, in reality a massive increase in aid has taken place under this coalition government since 2010. Why?

The Secretary of State for Overseas Development. Hilary Benn MP, told me in March 2006 that the total budget amounted to £4.5 Billions. A closely monitored audit trail was in place to ensure that funds reached the intended destination.

What is in evidence today is that the 13 Billion Euro aid fund grouped under this same budget, is NOT being used in the way intended.

Full disclosure by an independent body is now required about how much of this money is being miss-spent.

Richard's picture

But they have a point. It is true that much foreign aid goes to worthy causes. But those worthy causes go on in countries perfectly capable of funding from their own resources.

There is no rational reason as to why the Uk should be giving aid money to alleviate poverty in a country that is also apparently able to afford nuclear weapons, advanced jet fighters and their own space programme. There is a feeling building, rightly or wrongly, that this amounts to being taken advantage of.

It's also a bit rich to see the UK being criticised - how many other countries have actually met their committments to giving 0.7% GDP to foreign aid?

As to the comment about the Solidarity Fund...as far as the UK is concerned, there is no "European money". As a net contributor, there is only part of our own money back. Why would Nigel Farage object to that?

tony a's picture

Cameron & the conservatives are having their own hurricane Katrina moment & are desperately trying to shift the blame for what looks like staggering incompetence on behalf of the environment agency. The Government was monumentally embarrassed by UKIP who drew parallels with Cameron giving billions to help floods abroad yet they have completely ignored the disaster unfolding right on their doorstep. Only after the UKIP got involved did the Conservatives arrive for photo opportunities suddenly promising help.

Kate's picture

No one has ever denied climate change at all, obviously climate change has happened since the beggining of time. It is globol warming that is denied, and it looks like the fools have realised they have been wrong all along, that is why they have now switched to climate change. If the foreign aid is needed, then why is it spent on building rockets and weapons, it is obviously not going to the poor.
It is not the EU's money to give away, they have no money, they just take ours without our consent.

Kate's picture

The floods have been caused by the EU anyway, since 2007, which the hypocrite labour party agreed to, they should be charged with criminal damage and manslaughter, the labour MPs should be charged also with treason.

Mike Parr's picture

Kate, have you ever thought of increasing your medication? because clearly it ain't working

"The floods have been caused by the EU anyway"

hmmm ... anything else they are to blame for? (badgers moving the goalposts maybe?)

George Mc's picture

This story is about UK Aid and floods so I fail to see what the EU aid budget got dragged into the story. By the way we contribute to that over and above our own aid budget

In 2013 the UK was the worlds second highest contributor with £10 billion. As an example Germany with 81.8 million population versus the UKs 63.2 million donated £143 per head against Germany's £106.

Richard is correct in what he says about money, perhaps being wasted by being sent to countries who don't need it.

I will put money on it that a fair amount of the EU budget for aid is wasted. Add to that the probable high admin cost of Oxfam and other big charities and it is not a pretty sight. How many African leaders have become Billionaires of the back of aid?

David Bennett's picture

EU diktat that should return lowland back to its natural state is fact!

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