One of the prime aims of many charities is the relief of poverty. Churches and other faith groups are often at their best when they focus on this kind of work. Giving direct aid to those in need, by providing food and shelter, is one of the most obvious signs of charity. The recent Disasters Emergency Committee Coronavirus appeal is just the latest example.
But there is more to eradicating poverty than offering emergency relief for hunger or homelessness. The way that society is structured, how the economy works and the pattern of our politics also have to be changed. That is why many charities are working towards a ‘New Normal’, not returning to the previous systems, but aiming to ‘Build Back Better’.
There are several parts to this initiative. One is urging the richest nations to turn the pause on debt repayments of the poorest 77 counties, into debt cancellation. It has been reported that “faith leaders have joined together to call on UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support the cancellation of bilateral debt payments for the countries where repayments have been paused, as well as to urge the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and private creditors to cancel debt payments owed in 2020 and 2021”.
Another aim of this campaign is to use the opportunities presented by the Coronavirus pandemic to ensure that we change our attitudes and behaviour towards nature. The climate emergency has not gone away. We should be building on the good steps already taken to increase use of renewables to generate energy and end use of fossil fuels. There is some concern that we are using and disposing of so much plastic during the pandemic that we are going backwards in our efforts to green the economy.
One of the greatest causes of poverty is the effects of war and violence. Millions have been displaced and rendered homeless because of violent conflicts across the globe. Manufacture of weapons as part of the arms trade is a significant contributor to this destabilising of societies. Working for peace is therefore another vital part of charitable efforts to reduce poverty. That can involve quiet diplomacy behind the scenes, mass demonstrations on the streets and lobbying of members of parliaments. The work of charities, churches and other faith groups in the political arena is recognised as a legitimate means to fulfil charitable aims.
The roots of poverty are often found in the injustices of the past and present. So working for justice is another element in the work of charities. Creating good, trusting and equal relationships between individuals, communities and nations is part of the way to make justice. Remembering that we are all children of God, we are all in need of love and care can help us be more compassionate to others.
Charity may begin at home, with those nearest and dearest, but it does not stop there. It has to embrace the reduction of poverty, ending injustice, making a greener economy and the creation of peace.