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The Saints And Sinners Of Oxfam (Economist)

February 15, 2018

From the article: 

...Oxfam’s deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, who was in charge of the charity’s international programme when the Haiti behaviour was reported, resigned on February 12th. On the same day Mark Goldring, the charity’s boss, was hauled into the Department for International Development (DFID) to be told that Oxfam could forfeit over £30m of government money if it did not explain itself. The European Union, which gives Oxfam £29m, has demanded “maximum transparency”. The next day several of Oxfam’s corporate partners, including Visa and Marks & Spencer, said they were reviewing their links.

Similar allegations are now being made against other charities. Priti Patel, a former DFID secretary, has said the Oxfam case is the “tip of the iceberg”. This may sap confidence in the sector, which was already at its lowest-ever ebb in polls by the Charity Commission, which began in 2005. But the headlines may not affect the volume of giving, now £10bn a year. Daniel Fluskey of the Institute of Fundraising says that, despite the weak economy, giving has remained remarkably stable in recent years.
Proponents of Britain’s aid industry hope it will stay that way. For all Oxfam’s woes, experts like Owen Barder of the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank, argue that Britain’s aid is particularly effective and generally well-targeted. Oxfam may be bad at policing its staff, but, argues Dan Corry of New Philanthropy Capital, which assesses charities, it is one of the best at evaluating its projects.
As for the foreign-aid budget, the Oxfam affair has emboldened those on the Conservative right who want to end the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid, which they consider extravagant at a time of austerity. But other Tories, such as Andrew Mitchell, a former DFID secretary, argue that development is one of the few areas in which Britain is a global leader, spending more than any country bar America and Germany. As the country retreats from the EU, it would be sad if that role, too, were relinquished.

Related Experts

Owen Barder
Vice President, Director of CGD Europe, and Senior Fellow