The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged the ‘myths’ around international development and praised the overseas aid budget for its remarkable value for money.
At a reception at Lambeth Palace on 20 June to launch the new Christian Aid strategy paper Partnership for Change, Rowan Williams spoke of the importance for the Church of working in partnership with development agencies to tackle poverty, inequality and fight the stigma of disease.
Dr Williams was speaking alongside Baroness Northover, the Government’s spokesperson on International Development, who cited recent research revealing the substantial misconceptions held by the public over aid.
‘Apparently people think we are currently spending 17.9 per cent of the Government’s budget on aid,’ said Baroness Northover. ‘They think we should spend 7.9 per cent but in fact we are spending 1.1 per cent.’
Overseas aid alone is even lower than that, currently only 0.54 per cent with the Government promising to increase it to 0.7 per cent by 2013.
Dr Williams said: ‘When people find out the facts they are often both shocked at how low the percentage is and staggered by the effectiveness of such a low figure. I think those two reactions are what we really want. The shock at how low it is and the sense that the value for money is actually immense and apparently disproportionate.
‘The Government has loyally held to the benchmark agreed and I think deserves to be applauded for that.
‘We need to challenge some of the myths around this and underline the value for money that our aid budget actually entails.’
Referring to Partnership for Change, which sets out the organisation’s vision of working closely with churches, the private sector and the Government in tackling poverty, he said: ‘I’m personally delighted at the renewed energy around building grassroots partnerships with the churches.
‘What we’re seeking to do together is to hold up before our society that vision of a world given to us in trust for one another. That vision that turns the language of debt on its head and asks what do we owe to those that are most destitute most powerless, most struggling.
‘Because those are the ones to whom God himself behaves as if he owed a debt of love and respect because he holds nothing back from them. So can we respond in tune to that kind of generosity and that kind of vision?’
Christian Aid Director Loretta Minghella said churches had a unique ability to cross borders and be a force for global change.
"We look to our churches for prayer for those in poverty and all those who struggle against it; we look to our churches to redouble their efforts to stimulate a deeper understanding of a gospel of justice, of commitment to love our neighbours near and far, of the challenge to be sacrificial and prophetic", she said.
"Churches can play a key role in building a new kind of multilateralism for these critical times, reaching out across denominations and to other faiths in global community.
"Because faith crosses time zones and geographical borders and reaches beyond the end of the road."
Co-op Group Chairman Len Wardle said the private sector also had an important role to play in alleviating poverty.
‘We aim to have an impact in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, poor people in the main, across the developing world each year. And with the support of our seven million members who can campaign with us in helping to tackle poverty and supporting our pioneering approach to fair-trade or make loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world we believe we can make an unparalleled impact.
"The challenge we face is to persuade other businesses that there is commercial advantage in defining the bottom line beyond the value of a shareholders' dividend."
He concluded, "Our mantra should be need not greed."