The UK remains just one of five countries that puts aside the UN recommended 0.7% of its budget for foreign aid. There are plenty of people who welcome this, as the right thing to do for those facing incredible life-threatening hardships around the world. However, a new report could radically change their view, by revealing some of the bizarre ways this money is being squandered.
The report, in The Sun, highlighted some of the ridiculous projects funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Perhaps the oddest was the search to find mates for tropical fish off the coast of Africa.
They also discovered we are funding an anti-littering campaign in Jordan, paying for a touring group to perform Shakespeare in Ecuador, and spending on initiatives to 'empower' museum professionals in India. The list of oddities continues, with English lessons for young footballers in Uruguay, a mural in a rain shelter in Montserrat and a fashion event in Paraguay.
Around 87% of the government's entire aid budget is managed by the Department for International Development, and goes to 1.4 billion people around the world living in poverty. The work delivered internationally has been hailed by the experts as life-changing, and has, for example, saved three million children under the age of five from dying of malaria between 2000 and 2012. Oxfam has highlighted that with a billion people living in poverty, and the challenges posed by climate change, the need for this aid is greater than ever before.
The other 13% of the budget is distributed by other departments - including the FCO - and it's here that things have been going awry. Thanks to the FCO, we have spent £14,000 on a game show that aims to teach young people in Egypt about British values, and £13,000 to measure the carbon footprint of the Dakar rally. This would be almost laughable if it wasn't for the great seriousness of the savage cuts being imposed in the UK at the same time.
These cuts have left tens of thousands of people in such desperate situations that they have been forced to turn to food banks. They distributed enough emergency food to feed almost 1.1 million people for three days in the past year - up almost a fifth from a year earlier. At the same time there were up to a million benefits sanctions imposed on people on very low incomes, which Rachael Orr, head of Oxfam's UK poverty programme, says fuelled much of the increased use of food banks. In some extreme cases, cuts have even contributed to the deaths of those who have not received welfare payments.
In response to the revelations, a Foreign Office official agreed that some of these overseas projects were frivolous and while the vast majority of aid projects were value for money and in people's interests to invest in: "Clearly there are going to have to be some changes to tighten up the approvals and authorisation process." A spokesperson told The Daily Mail: "The vast majority of aid spending promotes UK prosperity and broader stability but there will be a crackdown on projects that cannot show taxpayers' cash is being spent wisely".
But what do you think? If the spending is properly targeted at those in dire need around the world, are you happy for the aid budget to be so generous, or has the situation in the UK become so dire, that there are people in poverty in this country who need help as a priority? Let us know in the comments.
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