This week the United Kingdom did something truly historic. It made good on a 43-year-old promise to give 0.7 per cent of its income in aid to the world’s poorest people.
Despite this being less than one per cent of national income being sent to those in need, some in the media – and in parliament – describe in outraged tones that this is a scandal. For me, the scandal is that they oppose helping those in such abject poverty. Certainly, times are tougher here than previously as our economy only limps on, but as a Christian I take inspiration from the words of Jesus.
Not only is it common for Christians to tithe a tenth of their income and give it to good causes (10 per cent, not less than one) but we have the powerful parable of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus told the story of the beaten and dying man who was shunned by a priest and a Levite but was helped by a Samaritan, a people that were the hated enemy of the Jews. He risked his own safety by helping the man in need and then paid for his care and rehabilitation. It wasn’t easy or cheap for the Samaritan yet he did it. Jesus asks his audience: “Who was a good neighbour to the man?” When they replied “the one who showed him compassion”, Jesus told them to go and do likewise.
The UK’s economic situation means life can be tough here, but most of us still live in relative comfort and wealth compared to the abject poverty of the developing world. The website globalrichlist.com tells you where your annual income ranks compared to the rest of the world. A salary of £19,000 puts you in the top five per cent. Here in the UK we also have institutional safety nets like healthcare (the NHS), free education and welfare benefits which millions of people in poverty can only dream of.
By making the aid budget a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) it will go up and down as our economy grows and shrinks. So when times are tough here, the amount we give in aid will go down.
Previously our overseas aid budget has been around 0.54 per cent of GNI. Although the total amount is still small compared to other spending; pensions (20 per cent), welfare (17 per cent) and defence (seven per cent), the increase is significant.
The British aid budget is something we can be incredibly proud of. In the week we’ve seen the awful conditions and dire need for emergency funds in Syria as millions of refugees seek food and shelter, we can be proud that, at least in terms of aid, Britain is being a good neighbour.
Following through on our aid promise is the first ask of the national Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign, which is urging the government to make progress on tackling world hunger. For more details visit www.christianaid.org.uk/if
To find out more about the Syria Appeal launched this week by the Disaster Emergency Committee visit www.christianaid.org.uk/emergency.
Image by Tearfund