Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Why charity doesn't aways begin at home

Opponents of overseas aid have grown ever more vociferous over recent months as first the Government announced that the budget would will be ring fenced from cuts then that it would increase by 40% between 2010 and 2013 bringing it up to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). “We are still living in a world where there are millions of people who live on less than a dollar a day, who are desperately poor, and I think we do have a moral responsibility, as one of the richest countries in the world, not to give up on them just because we are having a difficult time at home,” said Prime Minister David Cameron.
The commitment to 0.7% of GNI has been on the international table since 1970, when it was first passed in a resolution to the UN General Assembly, following a report from the World Bank. Yet since that time, only five countries have reached or exceeded the level. In 2005, at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles there was a commitment to reach the target by 2015. This was further reiterated by 15 EU countries in 2011.
So why is the issue of overseas aid so important? Well it is one way of countering poverty. In a world where more than one billion people live on less than a dollar a day and go to bed hungry each night, taking from the rich nations to give to the poor is the right thing to do.
The moral point can be further developed when it is remembered that much of the poverty in the developing world originates in the developed world. So there is a debt to be repaid. In the banks case a literal one, given that these institutions have profited via debt payments on unfair loan deals with the developed world.

The arms industry is another area, where those in the rich world have profited on the backs of the poor. The UK , US and France are among the five largest arms selling countries in the world. War breeds poverty and instability.

Finally, there are the unfair terms of trade that also mean the countries in the developing world lose out to the rich countries.

Given all of these factors, the contribution of some aid in the other direction to balance up the equation is surely a small price to pay.

So what has aid achieved? Aid agency CAFOD point out that from health and sanitation, to education and governance aid has made an immense contribution to the lives of the poor. To take just one example, aid has funded mass immunisation campaigns for children in impoverished countries that have saved the lives of millions. Measles deaths have been reduced by 60 per cent worldwide, smallpox has been eradicated, and polio has nearly been completely wiped out.

Thanks to international aid, some 41 million more children received primary education in 2005 than they did in 1999 and the average chance of a child surviving to the age of five has doubled. According to some estimates, aid has added one per cent to the annual rate of economic growth in the countries where the poorest billion people live.

In emergencies, aid has made the difference between life and death for hundreds of millions of people. In 2009 alone, the World Food Programme supported by the UK government, provided life-saving food and nutrition for over 100 million people affected by natural disasters, conflict and crises that left them without food.

In addition to the altruistic arguments behind giving aid, there are those of self-preservation. So countries that are not living in poverty are far less likely to turn to things like terrorism against the developed world.

This was recognised particularly by the UK government in 2010 with its Strategic Defence and Security Review, which saw 30% of the aid budget being redirected toward conflict effected countries. This funding is aimed at preventing conflict, that would fuel potential terrorism from the developed world or the need for an intervention to deal with an insurgency. It is also easier to achieve development goals in a peaceful country.

Perhaps the best example of how this policy is effecting the aid budget is the allocation of funding to Pakistan, a country known for its instability and to have been a training ground for terrorism. So the budget goes from £214 million in 2010 to become the leading recipient of UK aid with £446 million in 2014/15. Pakistan will be the highest recipient of UK aid by 2015.

“Britain’s aid plays a critical role in stabilising fragile states –which not only makes volatile regions in the world safer, but also helps reduce the long-term threat of terrorism to the UK,” said Chris Bain, director of CAFOD.

There can be a potential danger here though, where lines can become blurred, with the Prime Minister recently suggesting that aid money might be siphoned off for peacekeeping and security operations. Or put another way using aid money for military matters. The challenge seems to have been beaten off but proves that the aid budget is not sacrosanct and can come under attack from all sides.

The argument of those who would like to see the aid budget reduced focuses on the money being better spent at home.

The English Democrats Party quote massive reductions in job investments, suspension of work on new libraries and suspension of job schemes for the young. “The English Democrats would halt all foreign aid and instigate a huge review into exactly where taxpayers money has been spent. In these hard economic times. The British Government should be concentrating on putting resources and funding into the creation of new jobs, not pouring money into bottomless pits of overseas aid,” said and English Democrat Party spokesperson.

But how much are we talking about? The aid budget is set to rise from £8 billion in 2010/11 to £12 billion in 2013. Or put another way from 1% of total government spending to 3%. Total government spending was £694.89 billion in 2012. The aid budget of £8 billion compares to £166.98 billion for Work and Pensions and£37.25 billion for Defence.

Perhaps instead of attacking the aid budget in terms of overall spending it might be better to argue that there are other ways that the pot might be made that much bigger to allow more spending in all areas. This could happen if the £42 billion lost in tax avoidance each year were collected.

Then there are other glaring expenses that surely could be cut before aid, like the £13 billion over spend on the Eurofighter and the almost £4 billion a year spent by government on management consultants.

One crumb of comfort for those opposed to increasing the aid budget is that because the UK economy is now growing so slowly the actual amount to be paid out as a percentage of GDI will now be less.

A Mori poll back in 2009 found aid as being the most popular area to be cut to restore the public finances. The argument in favour of continuing to give international aid is irrefutable but maybe the case needs to be made more strongly to the public. “There is clearly an ethical case for increased spending on international development. However, that case can only stand if that spending is well targeted and effective and is seen to be well targeted and effective,” said a spokesperson for the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The case clearly needs making again and again if the old cry of charity begins at home is not to be heard once again. 

4/4/2013   Morning Star

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

New Pope offers opportunity of rebirth for Church of liberation

The election of Argentinan Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis I offers the opportunity for a change of direction in the Catholic Church.

The new Pope’s Jesuitical humble way of life, living in a small apartment and using public transport augurs well for a Papacy based nearer to the people than that of his predecessors. However, he will have to be an effective politician, manager and communicator to succeed.

The whole corrupt edifice based in the Vatican needs to be dismantled with a devolvement of power to the different countries and regions. The papacy needs to return to its former earlier state when the Pope was primarily the Bishop of Rome, not an all powerful dictator.

The hope must be that Pope Francis is a man touched by the liberation theologians of Latin America, prepared to reassert the Church’s preferential option for the poor. A man not frightened to critique the destructive capacity of the present neo-liberal economic system. A man prepared to stand up for the common good. A man also prepared to stand up for women, allowing them to play a full role in the life of the Church, no longer being relegated to the status of second class citizens.

The new Pope will have to be prepared to deal with the scandal that is child abuse. This will mean not only issuing full and meaningful apologies for the damage done but also showing a willingness to recognise that it is the present unaccountable structures of the Church that have helped bring about this appalling abuse in the first place.

The problem with Pope Benedict was whilst recognising the sin that is child abuse, he singularly failed to act to change the structures of the Church. In fact, he turned ever more to clericalism, entrusting ever greater power to priests, whose only qualification was their priesthood.

The new Pope must be prepared to really open up the Church, genuinely empowering the laity in the true spirit of Vatican II. He needs to develop a collaborative Church where everyone really is seen as an equal. The days of dictats from on high must end. Catholics need real formation in the faith, not to be treated like adolescents.

If this genuinely happens, then the Church can once again be a real force for good in the world, empowering the poor and downtrodden and questioning sinful economic and political structures that keep so many people living on the planet struggling by in poverty. The Church must become one of liberation not subjugation

see: Independent 19/3/2013 -


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Why do we treat elderly people so badly?

When an old lady died in a geriatric ward in Scotland the nurses were surprised to find amongst her belongings a poem she had written. It began: “What do you see, nurses, what do you see? What are you thinking when you’re looking at me? A crabby old woman, not very wise, Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes? Who dribbles her food and makes no reply."

The poem continued outlining the old ladies life from being a young child to a teenager, a bride and then a mother. Then grandchildren playing around her knee. After that her husband dies and she enters the years of gradual decline to death.

The point that the old lady makes is that what the nurses see should not just be “a crabby old woman” but the young girl, mother and grandmother – the whole person who has lived their life to the full. Not someone to be pitied or treated as a second class citizen but someone to be respected and looked after. The poem struck a chord because it goes right to the heart of the disgraceful way our society treats the elderly.

A child, teenager and working adult, all are to be respected in our society. But once the person hits 60 the attitude changes. They are no longer regarded in the same way. The individual goes from contributer to becoming a burden or cost. The years of taxes and national insurance contributions paid seem somehow forgotten.

The pensioner is suddenly a burden on society, not only that but according to the media debate a cost to younger generations.

A disingenuous argument aimed at dividing the generations is being formulated suggesting that the baby boomer and preceding generations had the good times. They bought their houses, wrecked the planet and now enjoy comfortable pensions. Their largesse means that the younger generation today may never own a home, have mounting debts and environmental catastrophe awaits.

The argument is slanted to an incredible degree. Pensioners have paid in their dues over the years. If things cannot be afforded it is because of things like the banking crash and the failure to tax those who make huge profits, not the elderly.

There is also a lack of recognition of the positive contributions that elderly people make to society. The amount of unpaid childcare provided runs into the tens of billions. Without this form of labour, fewer parents could work and gain fulfilment in their jobs. Indeed, as some local authorities have recognised the 60 plus generation offer a huge reservoir of untapped energy for the voluntary sector. These jobs may not carry the cudos of the Premier league footballer but they do contribute to the common good of our society.

The attitude to the elderly depicted in the old ladies poem, reflects that of the consumer throw away society. Once an individual is of no further use to the economic wheel then they can be cast aside. The model of the nuclear family is in many ways a product of capitalism.

Once the grandparent has served his or her purpose they can be shipped off to the care home. Dutiful visits every so often then follow. The “problem” of mum or dad is nicely dealt with, shipped off to another place. Out of sight out of mind – ‘they really like the home you know.” “I can’t visit, there is my job and the kids.”

Whatever happened when the grandparent was the parent bringing up the child, how did they cope? Every child owes a huge debt to their parents. All the care lavished on that child in bringing it up. The sacrifice is incredible. So why when the parent becomes elderly should that debt not be repaid by the child. The old extended family model kept child, parent and grandparent living together, often in the same house but if not the same street or area. The support network was there. The care home was a rarity. Care in the home could be funded to a much greater degree by the state.

The economic model ofcourse has had an impact here as well. People having to travel for work makes sticking by roots and the extended family model more difficult. Though perversely, now as house prices continue to remain out of the reach of many younger people, the extended family may re-emerge out of economic necessity.

The extended family was not a perfect model but it did seem to retain community and responsibility to ones nearest and dearest. Something that has now been lost with a society that is all too ready to warehouse its old people out of site and out of mind.

Poem from an Old Lady
What do you see, nurses, what do you see? What are you thinking when you’re looking at me? A crabby old woman, not very wise, Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes? Who dribbles her food and makes no reply When you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try!” Who seems not to notice the things that you do, And forever is losing a stocking or shoe..... Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will, With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.... Is that what you’re thinking? Is that what you see? Then open your eyes, nurse... you’re looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still, As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten ...with a father and mother, Brothers and sisters, who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet, Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon at twenty – my heart gives a leap, Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own, Who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast, Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone, But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty once more, babies play around my knee, Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead; I look to the future, I shudder with dread. For my young are all rearing young of their own, And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old woman and nature is cruel; ‘Tis jest to make old age look like a fool. The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart, There is now a stone where I once had a heart. But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells, And now and again my battered heart swells. I remember the joys, I remember the pain, And I’m loving and living life over again. I think of the years all too few, gone too fast, And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see, Not a crabby old woman......look closer......see me!!

Morning Star 5/3/2013

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Time for radical action on the banks

The news that the banks have not been passing on funds from the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS)but using it to further prop up their balance sheets should come as no surprise.

A less commented on side effect of the FLS is that the banks no longer have to provide any sort of interest rate to savers, so this particular move from the government has enabled the bankers to once again rip off another diligent part of the population.

The bankers are the modern day equivalent of the robber barons, only they are involved in bandit capitalism.

First, they have to be bailed out due to their own reckless behaviour. Then they rip the tax payer off again with the libor fixing and payment protection scandals.

More funds are then shovelled in their direction via the £375 billion plus of quantative easing – again these funds have been used to shore up balance sheets rather than being put into the real economy to stimulate growth.

How much longer is this going to carry on? There are bleatings from the politicians about welfare benefit cheats but when it comes to ripping off the tax payer the bankers are in a class of their own. Privatising profits whilst expecting the rest of us to pick up the losses.

The government needs to act decisively against the banks breaking them up and taking direct control of those where it is already the major share holder. At the moment the banks continue as before, with bonuses as usual, whilst the rest of us suffer the consequences.