The Blog

Cyclone Pam and the British Good Samaritan

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 will go down.

British aid is currently being flown in to help the desperate victims of Cyclone Pam on the Pacific Island of Vanuatu. As the world once again faces the reality of extreme weather, the tragedy highlights the importance of a historic piece of legislation that the UK Government passed only last week.

Britain made good on a 46-year-old promise to give 0.7 per cent of its income in aid to the world's poorest people -- and passed a law to protect it from the axe of future governments.

Despite this legislation being promised in the Coalition Agreement it needed a Private Member's Bill from backbench MP, the Liberal Democrat Michael Moore in order to get onto the statute book (not to mention determined cross-party support in the House of Lords to usher it past those who wanted to block it).

As anyone who's been watching the BBC's Inside the Commons will know, getting a Private Member's Bill into law is a minor miracle.

Despite it being less than one per cent of national income spent on those in need, some in the media -- and in parliament -- describe in outraged tones that this is a scandal. For me, the real scandal is that they oppose helping those in such abject poverty.

Times may be tougher here than previously as our economy continues to limp towards recovery, 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 Christians 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 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 compared to the abject poverty of the developing world. The website tells you where your annual income ranks compared to the rest of the world. A salary of £19,000 puts you in the top three per cent. Here in the UK we also have institutional safety nets like healthcare, 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 will go down.

We know that aid works. British support for immunisation saves a child's life every two minutes. And we can now vaccinate a child against some killer diseases for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. But we also know that aid cannot be the ultimate solution and that we also need to fix the structures that create and sustain poverty in the first place. But aid saves lives in the mean time, and can be used in ways which also help to tackle some of those root causes - whether it's improving capacity to collect tax to invest in vital services, or helping farmers to adapt to a changing climate, it's a start.

Crucially last week's legislation will protect the budget from any future government which may have taken an axe to it. If a party wants to take food from the mouths of those in need, or assistance from the likes of those in Vanuatu, they will at least need to change the law to do so.

At a time when Westminster politicians are often despised, the British aid budget is something they -- and we -- can be proud of.