Archbishop of York backs maintaining UK aid budget

Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu Photo: Press Association

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has backed the UK maintaining overseas aid as the Chancellor prepared to announce the Government’s spending plans in the Budget.

The Archbishop was speaking as the UK government prepared to reach its target of giving 0.7 per cent of national income to the poorest and most vulnerable living overseas. He stated that “we have a social and moral obligation to help eradicate the unnecessary suffering of others” both at home and overseas, caring for those who are disadvantaged “wherever they live”.

He added: “We shouldn’t have to choose between international aid and tackling poverty in the UK. It’s a false choice. Loving our neighbour means showing love and generosity not only to the people down the road, but also to our neighbours wherever they live in the global village. When the poor and vulnerable are left behind then we are all worse off as a society, as a nation and as an international community.”

His statement in full follows…

It’s good to be generous, and if as a country we are amongst those most committed to supporting vulnerable people in the developing world, then, that’s something we should be proud of. Whether it be communities that have faced flooding or families devastated by war, we have become known as a nation that is ready to respond with compassion. I like to think that generosity is a strong part of our national identity.

However, our commitment to the welfare of others, both at home and overseas, should not only be about generosity, it should be about justice. Today (Wednesday 20 March) is set to be the first Budget Day where the UK government will reach its target to give 0.7 per cent of our national income to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. We have a social and moral obligation to help eradicate the unnecessary suffering of others. Besides, it makes long term economic sense to support the emerging economies of the developing world.

Reaching this 0.7% target has been a long time coming. We, and other countries, made this promise more than 40 years ago – it is high time we kept our side of the bargain.

Yes, times are hard and we are all feeling the financial squeeze but allocating just 7p out of every £10 that our government spends to support development and relieve suffering overseas is a small slice of our national income, when compared with the spectre of people dying unnecessarily, or living without access to education or even clean water.

We have seen how successful Comic Relief has been over the years in generating support and donations for people in need, but we should not be relying on charitable donations to pick up the shortfall in the international development budget.

We have a moral duty to care for those who are disadvantaged wherever they live. ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Jesus was asked one day. He went on to tell the well-known story of the Samaritan, who was willing to put himself out to help a vulnerable fellow human being. How much is one human life worth? It is alongside such questions that decisions about the international aid budget should be made.

We shouldn’t have to choose between international aid and tackling poverty in the UK. It’s a false choice. Loving our neighbour means showing love and generosity not only to the people down the road, but also to our neighbours wherever they live in the global village. When the poor and vulnerable are left behind then we are all worse off as a society, as a nation and as an international community.

I have been a long term campaigner for a fairer deal for people living in poverty in the UK – both in urban and rural areas – but we should not be allowed to use our domestic situation as an excuse for allowing others to suffer. 99.3% of our national income is spent on ourselves. Are people really saying that we should stand by and allow death and disease to continue overseas because that extra 0.7% would eradicate poverty at home?

We should not deceive ourselves that the small financial contribution we make to people living in poverty overseas does not make a real difference in their lives. The ONE analysis shows that if UK aid spending commitments remain on track, the result will be millions of lives saved and transformed between now and 2015. In a letter published in the Financial Times on Monday, business leaders wrote that protecting international aid spending was “not only the right thing to do, but a smart investment” and that “Developing countries become emerging economies and emerging economies became the engines of future global growth and prosperity”.

Whilst our government must continue to keep a very close eye on how aid money is used, it would be wrong to scale back the level of investment we put aside for helping those in need to have the tools and produce to help them feed themselves, educate themselves and trade their way out of poverty.

Britain is known for its prudence as well as its sense of fair play and our overseas aid work is excellent value for money. Through community support programmes, UK aid has been able to help poor farmers to grow and sell crops like rice, cabbages and tomatoes to feed their families. These farmers have been given help buying seeds, offered advice on growing vegetables and received help to build wells to water their crops and improve their harvest during difficult seasons so that they can still eat nutritious meals.

Where unfair and unjust structures exist we must stand up and demand a better, fairer and more transparent system. But how can we lecture foreign governments when our own system of taxation is currently being flouted by so many companies and high earning executives who have done very well out of our country without paying their fair share back?

I have said that everyone, as individuals, but also businesses corporately, should pay their fair share of tax, and we should openly declare how much tax we pay. The tax we contribute to the Exchequer should be a badge of honour rather than something that we are trying to hide.

Today’s Budget is a great opportunity to change UK tax rules to stop companies avoiding their tax payments. This impacts on the poor both at home and overseas.

We need to create a level playing field so that businesses and citizens who pay their taxes and contribute to society get a fair deal.

These new regulations would send a powerful message to the rest of the world, especially the G8 when they meet in the UK this summer. They would show that we are not a nation that allows people to get away with not paying their fair share. In these tough economic times it matters even more that all of us contribute as we should.

This is the time to deliver on our promises and continue to show the rest of the world our great British values of generosity, fairness and justice.

– Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu