Diverting aid money to fund military operations aimed at stabilising war-torn states will hit the most vulnerable and put charity workers’ lives at risk, Prime Minister David Cameron has been warned.
Mr Cameron came under fire from charities yesterday after he indicated a willingness to direct some aid to defence measures.
Labour claimed the move was a “cynical attempt” by Mr Cameron to appease backbenchers unhappy with the ringfencing of the aid budget at a time of defence cuts. But Mr Cameron said it was right to look for ways in which the Department for International Development (DfID) can work more closely with the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence.
Initiatives which provide the basic security needed for development to take place could be an “important” use of aid funds, he said.
Oxfam head of policy Max Lawson said the cash should be spent on “hospitals and not helicopter gunships”. “The millions of people up and down the country who support the fantastic stance the government is taking, protecting the aid budget when every other G8 nation is not doing that – they expect this to be spent on schools and not soldiers,” he said.
Sorcha O’Callaghan, head of humanitarian policy at the British Red Cross, said: “Humanitarian agencies working in conflict need to be able to distance themselves from military objectives to be seen as neutral. Blurring the lines between aid and military objectives will reduce resources available to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and risks the safety of aid workers.”
Overseas aid is one of a handful of priorities, alongside the NHS and schools, shielded from cuts under Chancellor George Osborne’s austerity programme, and are set to be preserved in a spending review, due in June.
Any cut its budget would threaten to breach Mr Cameron’s pledge to meet the United Nations’ target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid, which Britain will meet for the first time this year. Asked whether he felt there was room for money in the aid budget to be spent on defence activities, Mr Cameron said: “We should be thinking very carefully about how we help states that have been riven with conflict and war. DfID and the Foreign Office and the Defence Ministry work increasingly closely together. If you are asking me can they work even more closely together, can we make sure that the funds we have at our disposal are used to provide basic levels of stability and security in deeply broken and fragile states, then I think we should.
“That is an important part of development.
“We have our moral responsibilities for tackling poverty in the world. We also have national security responsibilities for mending conflict states and helping with development around the world and we should see DfID in that context.”
Shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis said: “Cameron’s comments are a cynical attempt to appease his right-wing and another example of his weak leadership.”