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Tackling Poverty, Wherever It Occurs.

Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu

Saturday 18th June 2011

The Archbishop of York today writes in the Yorkshire Post about the importance of protecting the international aid budget. He outlines the need for greater transparency and accountability in aid funding, but urges people to never forget that our actions have a profound effect on changing the world for the better.

Article from the Yorkshire Post follows:

"I would like to ask you a question: What should be our top priority, the life of a child suffering from poverty in the UK – or the life of a child dying from a preventable disease in Africa?  The answer is, of course, that each life is equally valuable in the sight of God, and the language of “top priority” is misplaced.

I am concerned at how the recent debate about global poverty seems to have been reduced to a discussion about whether we should bother helping those in poverty overseas when we have our own problems to address at home. It is not an “either/or” question – we should be funding initiatives to tackle both.

John Donne once wrote that “no man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. We would do well to remember that the UK is not just a group of islands, it is an important part of a global community.

Do you know how much of the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is set aside for international aid programmes? 0.7%. Or to put it another way, in a world in which 1 million people will go to bed hungry and countless more die needless deaths on a daily basis, we have decided as a nation that 99.3% of our GDP should not be spent on addressing this issue. And indeed, some in the press and within Parliament believe we should be spending even less!

Providing aid to those in need, wherever they live, is not about feeling good about ourselves. It is not about pretending we are a global superpower or a moral policeman either, it is about justice. Yes, 0.7% of GDP is more than most other developed nations provide in international aid, but it is still woefully short of what is needed.

I can remember the days when Britain would lead and the rest of the world would follow. We should be proud that we are doing the right thing in the face of selfish opportunism elsewhere. We should allow ourselves to be motivated and guided by the British values of justice and fair play – and may those ideals shine around the globe for all to see.

When it comes to international development, I believe we should unite behind what Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, is attempting to do in the face of widespread opposition. Regardless of which side of the political divide we may traditionally sit, the battle to end poverty is too important to be sidetracked by the cynicism of others.

Let us aim for greater transparency and accountability in aid funding; let us ensure funding goes where it is needed; let us rigorously assess how effective our giving is, but let us never forget that our actions have a profound effect on changing the world for the better.

This week our Prime Minister, on all behalves, gave an extra £814m towards global immunisation programmes. That may sound like a lot of money to you and me, but without it another 4 million people will die of preventable diseases. How much value do we put on a human life? Do we think people deserve to die of illnesses such as malaria, flu, diarrhoea or whooping cough just because they happen to have been born in the wrong place?

This month Oxfam launched it’s GROW campaign underlining the challenge that we have to support sustainable production of food. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: “Hunger is not a natural phenomenon. It is a man made tragedy. People do not go hungry because there is not enough food to eat. They go hungry because the system which delivers food from the fields to our plates is broken.”

Will we turn our backs on those in need or will we give them the tools and encouragement to support themselves? Is it right in an age where obesity is commonplace that we cannot afford to help those starving to death?

That is not to say that poverty at home is not an appalling tragedy that does not need addressing urgently. Having worked in some of the poorest areas in England I have seen first hand how communities can be affected by unemployment, poor education, poor healthcare and poor life chances. It is one of the reasons I continue to call for increased investment in areas experiencing poverty and support for projects making a practical difference at home.

I have no problem in saying that those who earn the most in our society should contribute more in helping the poorest. It is a basic principle of our income tax and national insurance systems that allows everyone to share in the nation’s wealth. We may be in a recession, but there are still some bankers and company Chief Executives who make ludicrous sums of money whilst others go hungry in pockets of deprivation in our country. We should address that imbalance.

However we should not use obligations at home as an excuse to ignore the plight of those overseas.

The Save The Children Fund issued a key report last week focusing on the frightening level of poverty we have in the UK. 3.5 million children live in poverty and 1.6 million of that number are considered to live in extreme poverty. 680,000 of those children living in severe poverty live in a household where at least one parent works.

This endemic poverty within our society, is a damning indictment of how we have failed those in need – and shows how some people are still not paid a living wage in the workplace.

And yet earlier this week The Save The Children Fund’s Chief Executive described the Prime Minister’s investment in immunisation programmes overseas as a “make-or-break opportunity” and “an historic breakthrough that would save millions of lives”.

Is this an example of non joined-up thinking, or rather is it a perfect example that shows those who are doing the most to address poverty levels in the UK realise that we need immediate steps to eradicate poverty and rising mortality rates globally as well?

Borrowing from the 0.7% international aid budget is not going to make any noticeable difference in addressing what are far more fundamental problems at home, but it will make a massive difference to those routinely dying overseas.

We all have a moral responsibility to tackle social inequalities. For some it is a matter of life and death.

What we should strive for at home is to create a trinity of opportunity: God, Family and Work. This would help lift many out of poverty."

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