In the midst of UK election frenzy, public spending has become ever more central to the political debate. The major political parties are fighting over who can credibly cut waste and inefficiency. Reports of corruption are also more frequent. One that I found annoying was in the Independent newspaper on April 7.
The story reports that "the Department for International Development has lost nearly £720,000 over the past five years as a result of "fraud, corruption and abuse" by governments in the developing world or NGOs using British funds." The paper also faulted DfID for not revealing who the NGOs and Governments were.
Now the UK taxpayer should not tolerate any fraud in the spending of public money, but this story needs some perspective.
While the amount lost is £720,000 too much (and is probably an underestimate), it amounts to only 0.0045 % of the DfID budget over the past 5 years, or £1 in £22,000. How does this compare to other UK government departments? According to the 2010 inaugural National Fraud Authority report, £260 million of Housing Benefit was lost to fraud in 2008-09 alone. That is 1.5% of the housing benefit budget to fraud or £1 in £65. For Income Support, the corresponding figures are 2.9% and £1 in £34.
In the current politicized debate over government spending, the media needs to give its readers some perspective--without it they will be no better informed, whether or not DfID disclose the details of the £720,000.