Christian charities in Great Britain have reiterated their belief that international aid should be protected from cuts after a poll suggested it would be among the public’s top priorities for spending cuts.

Nearly half (49 percent) of the 2,000 respondents in the Local Government Association (LGA) survey thought overseas aid should be lowered to save public money.

Only National Health Service managers (69 percent) and quangos, which are organizations financed by the British government but act independently of it (57 percent), came in as higher priorities.

The survey was published ahead of the Local Government Association (LGA) conference in Bournemouth on July 6-8, which discussed how to make an estimated $1.5 billion in savings. Most departments are facing severe cuts as the British government plans to reduce the United Kingdom’s more than $235 billion annual budget deficit.

But international aid and the health budget are currently fully protected.

The U.K. has a long-standing commitment of giving 0.7 percent of its national income each year on overseas aid by 2013. (In 2008, U.K. financial help to the world’s poorest rose by almost a quarter to more than $9.3 billion and 0.43 percent of the U.K.’s national income.)

In the ComRes poll, those questioned said the main services they want protected were doctors, nurses and other hospitals (56 percent), police (35 percent) and schools (29 percent).

“It is clear that the public want to see important frontline services protected,” Dame Margaret Eaton, LGA chairman, said.

But Paul Cook, director of advocacy for Tearfund, argued that because billions of people are in extreme poverty around the world, the U.K. has a “moral responsibility” to keep its promises to them.

“We are aware that debates concerning the sustainability of international aid have intensified over recent weeks,” he told The Baptist Times. “And, at a time when people are being hit hard by the recession, we understand the concerns raised in this poll.

“We are all going to be hit hard by the economic recession, but it’s the world’s poorest people who will be hit hardest. Aid is a very tiny proportion of government spending, and Tearfund welcomes the fact that it has been ring-fenced (protected from cuts).”

Rev. David Kerrigan, general director of BMS World Mission, cautioned that when asked “in relative isolation, devoid of a specific context” this response to cutting international aid “is not surprising.” However, that doesn’t mean the British public is not generous, he said.

“There is a self-preservation streak in everyone so at a time of belt-tightening, it’s instinctive to look after ourselves first,” he said. “But the British people are known to be generous when faced with the kind of disaster appeals that feature from time to time on our screens, and I have no reason to doubt that has changed.

“If we showed film of a post-earthquake Haiti or a day in the life of a Sudanese refugee family and asked ‘Should we help them?’, I believe the British people would do so unreservedly and generously.”

Meanwhile Tim Aldred, advocacy manager for international development charity Progressio, said the protection of international aid was “very humbling” and should drive everyone who works in the field to be both accountable and to deliver the best possible results.

For, when used wisely, international aid can “work wonders,” Aldred said.

“Malawi receives more support from the U.K. than from any other country, and positive results have come thick and fast,” he said.

“In recent years, education and health have improved, agricultural support has enabled many of the country’s 11.5 million small-scale farmers to boost their previously unreliable maize harvests, and life expectancy – just 53 years – is slowly edging up.”

But, he added there is still a vast amount to do. Nearly 40 percent of Malawians continue to live below the poverty line of $2 a day, and this is why international aid is so important, Aldred continued.

“While we must, of course, tackle our own financial and social problems at home, we should never forget that the U.K. remains a vital lifeline for thousands of people beyond our borders as they seek to gain power over their own lives and overcome barriers that keep them poor.”

This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.

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