Oxfam protests against Treasury plan to cut aid

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OXFAM, Britain's biggest Third World aid charity, marked its 50th birthday yesterday with an attack on Treasury proposals to cut up to 15 per cent from Britain's overseas aid budget.

David Bryer, its director, said the public showed no signs of compassion fatigue. Oxfam's income last year was a record pounds 73.3m, 6 per cent more than the year before.

He asked the Government not to make 'unprecedented cuts' in help to poor countries so soon after promising to increase aid at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in June. 'It will be a tragedy if our 50th anniversary is marked by a turning back from the principle of one world,' Mr Bryer said.

Fifty years ago yesterday, the five founder members of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief first met. They were part of a national network pressing the War Cabinet to allow food through the Allies' blockade of German-occupied Greece, where civilians were starving.

The first Oxfam shop opened in 1948 in Broad Street, Oxford. The organisation supports 2,300 projects in 70 countries.

Stewart Wallis, Oxfam's overseas director, said yesterday that the organisation was marking rather than celebrating its 50th birthday. Numbers of destitute people and their needs were greater than ever before. One- fifth of the world's population - about 1 billion people - lived in abject poverty and the gap between rich and poor was rapidly widening.

But Maggie Black, who has written a history of the charity, said Oxfam's most basic belief - that those with the greatest suffering, whatever their race, nationality or religion, should be helped - had gained ground.

Mr Bryer said cuts in the Government's Third World aid would be concentrated on long-term bilateral assistance, which accounts for 40 per cent of the budget. Baroness Chalker, Minister for Overseas Development, and her predecessor, Chris Patten, had earned Oxfam's respect by shifting more of this bilateral aid into sustainable, long-term developments in the poorest countries. Now the progress gained was in jeopardy.

The ending of the Cold War gave an opportunity 'to put an end to the scandal of abject poverty', Mr Bryer said. There was widespread agreement between government aid experts, Third World charities and international finance organisations like the World Bank about what needed to be done. What was lacking was political will on the part of Western leaders. 'Instead of a forward- looking plan of action we see a black hole,' Mr Bryer said.