The cost of giving
Patrick Watt, Chief Executive of Christian Aid since May, talks to Stephen Tomkins
We’re in what we’re calling a cost of living crisis. Do you think it’s fair that, if people are finding times hard in the UK, we worry about making our own ends meet before we worry about what’s happening in other countries?
I think we should be applying the principle that those with the broadest shoulders carry the heaviest load – in our international and our domestic responsibilities. The impact of the Ukraine crisis on people’s energy bills or food bills in the UK is also being felt in poorer countries where people had on the whole far fewer buffers to withstand those shocks in the first place. The causes of the cost of living crisis are global, so are the consequences, and so do the solutions have to be. The UK, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has to play its full role in dealing with that.
I recognise at the level of individual households, there will be people who now cannot afford to be as generous in supporting causes like Christian Aid as they were in the past. I would completely understand that. But our supporter base is incredibly generous and incredibly committed. Where we expected the Covid crisis to hit our voluntary income, we actually saw it increase, so we know there’s a huge amount of compassion, a huge amount of generosity, a deep commitment to a more just world amongst our supporters.
These present hardships, following Covid, must be pretty tough times for charities in general and for Christian Aid in particular.
It’s a very uncertain world that we’re in at the moment. And I think one of the lessons that we’ve learned in the last few years is don’t plan too far ahead. We know in broad terms what it is we are trying to do: to tackle poverty and the underlying injustices that cause poverty. But what that means in a given moment in a given country… we have to be very agile in how we respond. We went through a big change process as an organisation about two and a half years ago, and since then many of the countries in which we decided to continue to work, like Ethiopia, Myanmar and Afghanistan, have seen conflict, changes of government. We’ve had the Covid pandemic and now the war in Ukraine putting enormous pressures globally on food and energy costs. And we’ve seen the first substantial rise in extreme poverty in a generation. So it’s a very tough environment. Over that same period we’ve seen the UK government decide to merge the department for international development into the foreign office and very substantially cut aid. We are able to continue our work because of voluntary support from Christian Aid supporters in Britain. But our income from official donors like the UK government and the UN has taken a big hit. It’s a difficult time. We’re having to make choices, but we’ve also seen that there’s still a huge amount of compassion out there.
The outpouring of public concern about the war in Ukraine is an example of that. We weren’t working in Ukraine previously, but we are now spending Disaster Emergency Committee income and our own appeal income in Ukraine, doing some really important work there and in neighbouring countries. A lot of people, for the first time in a long time, have given money to organisations like Christian Aid. How do we take that expression of concern over Ukraine and expand that to other parts of the world? How do we build a movement of people who express their care for the wider world in a more sustained way? That’s a challenge for British society as a whole, not just for organisations like Christian Aid, and it’s a challenge for the Church….
To arrange a church visit from Patrick Watt, email email@example.com
This is an extract from an article published in the October 2022 edition of Reform