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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
EU aid 'not reaching the poor'
A child in Malawi's famine
Money needs to be targeted at poorest nations
Not enough of the UK's overseas aid budget is reaching the world's poorest countries, says an influential group of MPs.

Members of the Commons Public Accounts Committee are particularly critical of aid channelled through the European Union.


Too small a proportion of the UK aid budget reaches the poorest countries

Edward Leigh
Public accounts committee chairman
It follows criticisms by International Development Secretary Clare Short on Tuesday of the proportion of EU aid which is distributed to the poorest countries.

More than 624m of the UK's aid budget goes every year to the EU's programmes for helping developing countries.

The goal is that by 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty will be halved and the Commons public accounts committee says this means aid must be well spent.

It criticises the fact that almost a quarter of direct British aid still goes to middle income countries.

The Department for International Development says it is focusing aid increasingly on the poorest nations, but officials accept that more attention on performance targets could help.

'Ridiculous targets'

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said it was shocking that 62% of EU aid goes to middle income countries, mainly in North Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Fellow Conservative committee member George Osborne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the UK's aid effort was being hampered by the way the EU worked, as well as by "ridiculous" Treasury targets.

Clare Short during a visit to Pakistan
Clare Short says the EC may get less aid cash

Helen O'Connell, from the One World Action charity, said most aid money was going into large scale infrastructure.

That meant it did not always reach the poorest people.

Part of the problem was that the EU gave money to middle income countries on its borders in an attempt to cut down immigration, Ms O'Connell told Today.

She argued middle income nations were better helped with trade than with aid.

Clare Short this week branded the way the European Commission distributed aid an "outrage".

If the problems were not overcome, the UK might channel less money through the EC in future, she warned.

'Getting better'

The EU instead insists nothing is wrong with using aid, for example, to help build political stability in the Balkans.

Poul Nielson, the EU commissioner for development and aid, has accused Ms Short of being disingenuous in her criticism.

The UK was fully represented on the on the councils that decided spending priorities, said Mr Nielson.

Money was now being better targeted and distributed more quickly in the wake of recent reforms, he argued.

Liberal Democrat international development spokesman Jenny Tonge said: "Reform of the EU's aid mechanisms are long overdue.

"The current system is not focused on poverty reduction - the UK must bring much greater pressure to bear on its EU partners to give aid to reduce poverty rather than for political reasons.

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One World Action's Helen O'Connell
"A lot of it is not reaching the poor people"
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