LONDON -  British Prime Minister Theresa May has been forced to defend the practice of handing British taxpayers’ cash to people in Pakistan after it was described as “exporting the dole” by a senior Tory MP.

Nigel Evans called for a review of the programme, but No10 said the controversial scheme was part of “a respected system that gets aid to those that need it the most.” The PM’s official spokesman said there were “robust systems in place to protect” the public purse, despite Tory critics comparing the £10 a month gifts to welfare handouts.

The row comes after it was revealed the UK aid budget helps fund the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), which offers cash amounting to just over £10 a month to some of the poorest families in a country where 60 million people live on less than £1 a day.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister told a Westminster briefing that there were “These are cash transfers that are focused on making sure that aid is targeted at those who need it, when they need it.”

The spokeperson went on: “In the last four years cash transfers supported by UK aid have helped almost nine million of the world’s poorest people to buy food, medicine, and clean water. There are robust systems in place to make sure that they are not being exploited for fraud and corruption. We think it is a respected system for getting aid to those that need it most.”

The spokesman said the government would “only pursue such an option where we were clear that results had already been achieved and verified”.

And officials believe offering cash directly to those people cuts out any middlemen, reducing the risk of fraud and minimising the cost of the programme, which is helping around 5.2 million families overall.

The British contribution has risen from £53 million in 2005 to an annual average of £219 million in the period 2011-15. A further £300 million is earmarked by the Department for International Development for the BISP by 2020, aiding another 441,000 families.

MP Nigel Evans, a former Commons deputy speaker and member of the International Aid Committee, warned that the system was “clearly open to fraud”. He called on International Development Secretary Priti Patel to urgently examine the use of cash transfers. “Normally this sort of aid is only given in a crisis or emergency when it is the only way to give help,” said Evans.

“It only should be a temporary measure, but it seems like we’re exporting the dole to Pakistan, which is clearly not a clever idea. Anything that involves money needs to be properly scrutinised and is clearly open to fraud with money siphoned away when it ought to be directed to those most in need.”