Bishop Martin says the UK should lead the way on overseas aid and sharing vaccines
Throughout this pandemic we have been reminded, or we have learned maybe for the first time, just how interconnected we are across the world.
We saw this as the virus spread, and now as new variants emerge, including in this country, we see how their transmission shows our interconnectedness.
And we are all aware that unless the whole world is vaccinated, and those vaccines are kept updated, we will continue to be at the mercy of the virus.
The remedy is to start from the recognition that we are one, and then make decisions in the light of that.
So making sure vaccines and health care are shared between those who have and those who don’t is to make decisions based on realising that we are indeed as one in this.
There is a basic principle here that operates in many different contexts, when you accept that you are connected to others.
Families follow the principle, helping members in need. We have seen communities across Suffolk following this principle throughout lockdown as people reach out to help.
Churches recognise the principle in the practice of tithing, when everyone gives something for the good of all.
When I was a vicar in the East End of London, in a parish that was struggling financially, we took the decision to tithe what we had and give to charities both local, and overseas.
We recognised that even if what we had did not seem sufficient to us, we still had more than others to whom we were connected as members of the human family.
And of course, that simple generosity bred generosity and within a few years we were no longer struggling, and could increase what we gave away.
And the principle applies to nations. So two steps seem to me to be particularly important for the British government to take.
First, as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, we need to restore the amount we give to poorer nations.
Last year the government announced it would cut aid spending from 0.7% of national income to 0.5% – a reduction of more than £4bn.
That figure was a huge reduction for those who were benefiting from the aid Britain was providing.
It was an unnecessary act, that needs to be remedied and as I write this it is encouraging that many in Parliament are seeking to restore aid to the earlier full amount.
Secondly, Britain should show moral leadership in securing vaccines for those countries without. Currently, 1 in 4 people have been vaccinated in high income countries, and the figure is a desperate 1 in 500 in low-income countries.
We are one – we are in this together – and low-income countries need vaccines and those that have must share with those that don’t, and the patents and licensing should be made available for local production.
Without this, we will never get on top of the virus.
It is Britain’s turn to take on the presidency of the G7 group of wealthy nations, which also includes as members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States.
They gather for the 47th G7 Summit this week, in Cornwall, and of course the meeting will be taken up working on fighting the virus and the programme for recovery.
Britain has the opportunity to take moral leadership on both of these issues, restoring the aid budget and leading the way in the global distribution and availability of vaccines.
I am praying that will happen, because we are all in this together.
- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic