Cutting foreign aid spending in the wake of the Oxfam prostitution scandal would be a blunder, says William Hague

UK

Cutting foreign aid spending in the wake of the sex scandal engulfing Oxfam would be a “blunder”, according to the former Conservative leader William Hague.

Referring to allegations in which the charity’s aid workers used prostitutes in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2011, Mr Hague said it was important to deal “decisively” with the “utterly unacceptable” behaviour of humanitarian workers.

But he said a reduction in Britain’s foreign aid spending – currently at 0.7 per cent of GDP – would be a “strategic blunder”, adding it would “ultimately damage our own national interest and ability to deal with on the biggest problems heading our way”.

He continued: “This is that over the next 30 years more than half the growth in the world’s population is expected to be on just one continent – Africa.” 

Mr Hague, who also served as Foreign Secretary in David Cameron’s administration between 2010 and 2014, added there was an “overwhelming strategic, as well as moral, imperative to deliver aid to the world’s poorest people”, but added that the sector needs to show it is setting and meeting the highest standards. 

“The case for the type of work done by Oxfam is too strong to allow it to be undermined by bad behaviour and inadequate standards of disclosure or investigation,” he wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph.

“The case for an aid budget that tackles the world’s biggest issues will get stronger, not weaker, in the years ahead. The response to this appalling scandal needs to be tough enough to convince the public that their generosity will not be abused.” 

His comments came after Jacob Rees-Mogg last week delivered a Daily Express petition to Downing Street calling on Theresa May to cut the foreign aid budget. But a Downing Street source told the Guardian that the Government is committed to meeting the 0.7 per cent target as “it is a legal obligation”. 

Mr Hague’s intervention also follows the dramatic resignation of Oxfam’s deputy chief executive on Monday, saying she took “full responsibility” for the alleged use of prostitutes by senior staff in Haiti seven years ago.

Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, has written a letter to all UK charities working overseas demanding “absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency needed to fully protect vulnerable people are in place”.

“It is not only Oxfam that must improve,” she said. “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.”

Ms Mordaunt added that the Department for International Development (Dfid) has created a new unit dedicated to reviewing safeguarding in the aid sector and stopping “criminal and predatory individuals” being employed by other charities.

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