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05 May 2017

Charity really does start at home - why the 0.7 per cent matters

Charity really does start at home - why the 0.7 per cent matters

Rehema Figueiredo is a media officer based in London.

Theresa May's announcement that she is keeping the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on foreign aid was met with adulation by those of us who work in the third sector. Aid agencies, former tech tycoons and even the World Bank had rallied to defend the target as not just right, but necessary. But as my colleagues celebrated, I couldn't shake this nagging feeling that the battle had been won, but the war continues. The most powerful politician in the country had recognised the importance of investing in the futures of most vulnerable overseas, yet the national narrative around the topic remains toxic.

In recent weeks newspapers have pitted the plight of sick elderly people against faceless dark-skinned masses. "Charity starts at home," they declared – with comment writers incensed that taxpayers' money was being spent abroad and charities branded incompetent. And the anger continues.

Last week I posted an article to my Facebook written by a colleague who had recently returned from South Sudan – the world's newest country where famine has been declared in two states. I'm biased, but I found his words incredibly moving. He had witnessed people clamouring for food distributions and wrote of how impossibly hard he had found it returning to the UK and hearing people question whether aid was really necessary. A friend I hadn't spoken to in years commented on my post questioning the effectiveness of aid and declaring a political solution was the only way to resolve the dire hunger crisis. It struck me that the narrative that said charities were full of ineffective do-gooders had seeped off the newspaper pages and into the national consciousness.

I couldn't get away from how black and white it all was. Help the British elderly or the starving children of South Sudan. Give aid or seek a political solution. Commit to 0.7 per cent or nothing at all. When did these things become mutually exclusive? Why has this become a zero sum game? As Christians we are called to be joyful givers – not just of our money, but also of our time and our skills. Luke 6:30 says: "Give to everyone who asks you." Everyone. Give to charities that help the elderly. Give to aid agencies that work overseas. Give to our local church. Give to our national budget. Give up our comforts to help on the ground. Give our time to lobby our politicians. 

And so I came back to the 0.7 per cent commitment and why I still felt uneasy. Yes, the national coffers aren't overflowing and the NHS, among other areas, is in desperate need of more funding. We know our resources are finite and the deficit is of huge political concern. Yet it feels as though we are holding what we have with the tightest of fists. Perhaps it's a naïve position to hold, but why only 0.7 per cent? Why not more? We are a nation rooted in a history of generosity and compassion, looking out for the most vulnerable on our doorstep and those separated from us by thousands of miles. If we are all made in His image then yes, charity does start at home and it overflows to all who bear His likeness.