The President of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, has condemned British media attacks on the UK’s aid budget as “fake news”.
In a speech in Oxford tonight, the former Labour foreign secretary will defend the 0.7% of GDP spent on aid, as the UK ponders its post-Brexit development aid strategy.
His intervention comes as the British right-wing press, led by the Daily Mail, highlights examples of ‘waste’ in the overseas aid budget, where the UK is one of the few EU member states to hit its spending target.
And it comes against the backdrop of a new Development Minister, Priti Patel, who has spoken out against waste in the aid budget, and her special advisor, who has previously called for the entire Department for International Development to be close down.
In his talk at The Sheldonian in Oxford, Miliband will say – according to leaks in the Guardian – that attacks on the aid budget “repeat the familiar tropes of fake news.”
He goes on: “Just as leaving the EU was trumpeted as a way to raise money for the NHS money which is now shown to be fictitious – so a raid on the aid budget is offered as a salve for an NHS in crisis. Yet the aid budget is one-tenth the NHS budget, and the problems of the NHS are not born of largesse in foreign aid.
“The truth is, aid spending works out to be £290 per person in the UK between the ages of 16 and 64 per year. That is half as much as the average citizen spends on food they never eat.”
Miliband, however, adds that ministers have so far stood firm in the face of this assault, and deserve praise for doing so.
In her first speech as Development Secretary, Patel claimed that too much of the UK aid budget was wasted, stolen or spent on inappropriate projects, and promised to take a new approach based on “core Conservative principles.”
In recent weeks, the Daily Mail has published several front-page splashes alleging waste or abuse of UK development money.
They include cash spent on poor families in Pakistan, the elderly in China and the inhabitants of the Pitcairn Island in the Pacific.
The Conservative government under David Cameron, and then Theresa May, promised to keep the 0.7% of GDP spending target first met by the previous Labour government.
Whilst the EU is the world’s largest donor of ODA (Official Development Assistance), only five member states meet the target – the UK, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherland and Luxembourg.
The UK’s exit from the EU will leave a significant gap in the EU aid budget, both in bare numerical terms, but also in financial ‘leveraging’ of matching other external funding.
Miliband was poised to become Labour leader in 2010 but was narrowly beaten by his brother Ed, who went on to lose the 2015 general election.
He now runs the IRC in New York but has long been rumoured to fancy another chance to return to UK domestic politics. He was once also rumoured to be a candidate for the EU Commission Presidency.