A decision on whether to withdraw public funding from Oxfam over the aid worker sex scandal will not be taken hastily, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said.
The charity has issued an “unreserved apology” to the Government, donors, supporters and the people of Haiti over its handling of sex allegations, including the use of prostitutes by workers, in the earthquake-hit country in 2011.
Ms Mordaunt said she would take the issue very seriously but stressed she would be guided by a Charity Commission inquiry into Oxfam while deciding whether to pull funding.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the scandal should not be used as an excuse to cut overall aid funding.
The Government is committed to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas development assistance but there have been calls from some Tories to scrap the policy.
Oxfam received £31.7 million from the Government in 2016/17, but the support has been put at risk by the furore, which led to the resignation of its deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence.
Ms Mordaunt said: “I know people will be worried about the charity, they’ll be worried about the money, but we need to be guided by what the Charity Commission are doing and also I have made it very clear to Oxfam what we expect to see from them.
“But these decisions shouldn’t be taken hastily, but I am considering them.”
Jeremy Corbyn has defended the UK aid budget following the Oxfam scandal (Jane Barlow/PA)
Mr Corbyn said: “What happened in Haiti is disgraceful and disgusting.
“To have the poorest country on earth, the most indebted place, with desperate people trying to recover from an earthquake, and some of those people grossly exploited by a small group of aid workers is utterly disgraceful.
“The problem now is the reputational damage that does not just to Oxfam but all other aid workers. There has to be proper robust management.
“I’m an admirer and supporter of Oxfam but I want them to show they are going to manage things in a robust way to make sure that all of us have confidence in Oxfam going forward.”
Defending the overall aid commitment, Mr Corbyn said: “The aid budget is important to help people getting through a crisis.
“The people of Haiti needed international aid and support to get through a medical, food and poverty crisis.
“It’s not a reason to cut the budget, it’s a reason to manage it carefully.”
Former Conservative leader Lord Hague also warned against cutting the foreign aid budget in the wake of the scandal.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the former foreign secretary said there was an “overwhelming strategic, as well as moral, imperative to deliver aid to the world’s poorest people”, but 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 said.
The Charity Commission said Oxfam may not have “fully and frankly disclosed material details” when it first investigated allegations of misconduct in 2011.
The watchdog also said it had concerns about the charity’s handling of incidents since, and the impact that these have both had on public trust and confidence.
On Monday, Helen Evans, Oxfam’s former global head of safeguarding, told Channel 4 News that she begged senior staff, ministers and the regulator to act on the sexual abuse allegations.
She also detailed three new allegations made against Oxfam staff overseas in a single day.
Ms Evans said: “There was one of a woman being coerced to have sex in a humanitarian response by another aid worker, another case where a woman had been coerced in exchange for aid and another one where it had come to our attention where a member of staff had been struck off for sexual abuse and hadn’t disclosed that, and we were then concerned about what he might be doing, and that was three allegations in one day.”
Oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring has said he will not stand down unless the charity’s board tells him it has lost faith in his leadership, and has apologised to Ms Evans over the way her concerns were handled.
Four members of Oxfam staff were dismissed and three, including the country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, resigned before the end of the 2011 investigation.
According to The Times, Oxfam knew about concerns over the conduct of Mr van Hauwermeiren and another man when they worked in Chad before they were given senior roles in Haiti.