UK Politicians and Tabloid use flood to attack foreign aid budget

APTOPIX Britain Floods
A resident carries sandbags on Tuesday to protect his property from the floods, in the village of Datchet, England.
AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Movement is afoot in the UK to divert foreign aid towards relief for people affected by recent flooding. The tabloid the Daily Mail joined the right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) in calling for a portion of the UK’s £11 billion foreign aid budget to help victims of flooding along the Thames Valley.

Heavy rains in the UK have flooded more than 5,000 properties in the past two months. It has been so severe in some cases that thousands of homes have been evacuated and hundreds have been rescued. Prime Minister David  has come under criticism for his handling of the crisis. Among the most vocal complaints have been about the foreign aid budget.

“Charity begins at home. There’s a real emergency,” argued Philip Hollobone, a Minister of Parliament for Kettering. “The overwhelming majority of my constituents would like to see this money spent on alleviating the misery of the people in the West Country.”

Hollobone fell in line with UKIP leader Nigel Farage who attacked the foreign aid budget on Sunday. He criticized the government for acting to help people out when disasters strike elsewhere, but failing to do so when it happens at home.

“The aid budget is about us giving money abroad but what are we doing giving money to India, who have their own space projects?” asked Farage. “Wouldn’t it be brilliant to see the British Government say ‘yes, we’re going to put our own struggling country first?'”

This is not the first time UKIP members have attacked UK support for foreign disasters. UK Member of the European Parliament Godfrey Bloom delivered off-color comments at a private meeting in August. He accused foreign aid money of being used to buy Ray Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and F-18s for Pakistan. However it was his calling developing countries “Bongo Bongo Land” that garnered public outrage and led UKIP leaders to distance themselves from the comments.

The Daily Mail published an article on Monday that said to ‘put UK flood victims first.’ It featured interspersed pictures of the damage caused by the floods with an argument against the foreign aid budget. The article concludes with a petition calling on the government to stop wasting money and give it to the people who need it most, Brits affected by the floods.

Britain’s £11 billion overseas aid programme has become a byword for waste, inefficiency and political correctness. Critics say much has gone on vanity projects or to countries that don’t really need it. Controversies include:

  •  A £1.2 million donation to the World Bank’s flood prevention and control scheme. Taxpayers contributed a further £986,000 to protect the biosphere in developing countries and a further £115 million has gone to flood prevention work overseas.
  • Billions to foreign governments for projects to tackle global warming, such as wind turbines in Africa – while cash is also helping to build foreign coal-fired power stations. One in South Africa is almost five times the size of a UK plant.
  • Millions towards disaster recovery following floods abroad, including £42.5 million to aid agencies in Pakistan in 2011.
  • Enormous sums going to China (£27.4 million) and India (£290 million), both of which have space programmes.
  • Millions wasted on road projects which critics say are in the wrong place or never finished. In Mozambique, a British-backed EU project to build a £60 million road to Malawi ran out of cash four miles short of the border.
  • Lavish salaries for aid officials. Tony Blair’s former aide Sir Michael Barber was paid £5,000 a day to advise on spending money in Pakistan. And the £100 million Trademark Southern Africa scheme was closed down after concerns staff received six-figure salaries.
  • Sainsbury’s given British aid to improve conditions for foreign suppliers – such as a radio show for Kenyan farmers.

Cameroon rejected the suggestion to use foreign aid money. He said that money was available for local governments to respond.

“Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed, we will spend it,” said Cameroon in a recent press conference.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) is an imperfect organization. Like other aid organizations, DfID has its instances of waste. The issue of foreign aid spending taken up by UKIP and the Daily Mail are more of a matter of protectionism than concern with where and how the foreign aid budget is spent. The UK’s foreign aid budget in 2012 was able to help provide food assistance to 97.2 million, immunize 46 million children, treat 1.1 million cases of TB and bring financial services to 30.3 million people.

The £42.5 million spent on Pakistan in 2011 was in response to flooding that killed hundreds and affected nearly 9 million people. The allocation was only a fraction of the $357 that the UN said it needed at the time. It also came one year after flooding in the country killed 1,700 and displaced 20 million.

Eric Pickles, the man who is in charge of the government response to the flooding, said that foreign aid spending was one way to prevent future disasters. He told Sky News in an interview that taking steps to reduce the pace of climate change by aiding and investing in developing countries would benefit the UK.

“We will be able to do all this without having to touch he aid budget. And if it is truly global warming, and our aid is sustainable aid, then aid that we are offering in other parts of the world will have an effect in terms of the things that happen in this country,” said Pickles.

Green energy investments derided by the petition may very well benefit the people of Pakistan as they will the people of the UK, thus providing future savings to the UK government.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.