Overseas Aid: How Much is Enough?

The leak of Liam Fox’s letter challenging the Government’s plan to enshrine in law the pledge to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid has been brilliantly timed to coincide with Christian Aid Week. Or rather, brilliantly mistimed. On the one hand, we have the Defence Secretary raising legitimate concerns about the effect of such a statutory requirement on the Government’s freedom to allocate spending as it sees fit (something we all need to think about, given the commitment of British forces in Afghanistan, Libya, etc); on the other, we have the example of years of quiet do-goodery (using that word without any pejorative overtones) funded by the generosity of private donors to Christian Aid, an organization I very much admire.

Christian Aid is using the slogan ‘Help people in poverty out of poverty. For good.’ For me, the sting is in that ‘For good.’ You could dismiss it as merely fashionable punctuation. Which likes to do things differently. Or you could take it as an expression of something more important, the motive for and the consequence of giving being the good of others. Poverty is something one can find anywhere. It doesn’t necessarily mean being physically hungry or without access to education or medical care. Mother Teresa was appalled by the spiritual poverty she saw in the west, but we tend to dismiss that. We don’t need religious people telling us that we lack something. We are generous; we support lots of good causes; we believe in the secular redemption of a secular society.

The problem with that way of thinking is that it can lead to complacency. I can save the world by not eating meat/using wind power/delete as applicable. Complacency is another form of spiritual poverty, the refusal not so much to give as the refusal to share. To give is sometimes to place oneself above another; to share is to place oneself alongside. What troubles me about Dr Fox’s letter is that many will take the argument about Government spending and turn it back on itself, asserting that we cannot afford to give to others because of our own needs as a country. We need organizations like Christian Aid to remind us that overseas aid is not about giving to poorer nations but sharing resources with them. How much is enough? I don’t know, but I believe we need to think about it.

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5 thoughts on “Overseas Aid: How Much is Enough?”

  1. Dear Digitalnun

    I have been reading your postings and blog for some time now and am deeply impressed by the way in which you bring a useful reflection to bear on so many subjects that trouble our beautiful world.

    I believe that the real crisis of the world, including the crisis of global warming, can only be resolved through each person sharing himself/herself and what each one has, with the other. What I have does not belong to be but is given to me (or rather lent to me) for my use and my responsibility is to share when I can with others. This is one of the deep meanings of the Eucharist that is celebrated each day in so many places around the world. One can only life one’s life as a person in relationship to others.

  2. “We don’t need religious people telling us that we lack something. We are generous; we support lots of good causes; we believe in the secular redemption of a secular society.”
    I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this but the above sounds exactly like what the Grauniad-reading chattering classes would say :). I should know. My daughter is a reader of said newspaper and it sounds just like the things I hear from her and her friends. And she derides my choice of paper, calling it The Torygraph!

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