Faith Based Organisations – Tearfund's Policy Blog

April 28, 2016 by Caroline

When you’re facing a crisis who do you turn to? Or what happens when your usual support networks like family, friends and neighbours are not around? Most of us can only imagine what we would do if our crisis became a war in the country we live in.

But that’s the reality for people who have been affected by the conflict in South Sudan, which erupted in December 2013. It began in the capital, Juba and then spread rapidly across the country’s different states. Local survival mechanisms have been depleted since then and populations have few remaining resources .

At the start of this year more than 2.2 million people have been displaced and the prospects are bleak while conflict continues despite the signing of a Peace Agreement in August 2015. The far-reaching effects of conflict mean that humanitarian organisations need to respond to the needs of both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities.

However, all humanitarian actors struggle to respond to these acute needs against a context of chronic poverty, on-going conflict and insecurity, limited infrastructure and a significant funding shortfall. Local, national and international actors all bring important contributions to this response.

The most effective humanitarian partnerships have emerged in South Sudan when the comparative advantages of local, national and international organisations complement each other, and where investment in long-term partnerships before a crisis emerges are set up so that the partnerships can be scaled-up effectively.

Missed Out

This was one of the key findings in the latest series of research papers commissioned by Tearfund along with ActionAid, CAFOD, Christian Aid and Oxfam on the subject of humanitarian partnerships in disasters. This most recent study ‘Missed Out: The role of local actors in the humanitarian response in the South Sudan conflict’ , which is being launched in Juba today. It seeks to understand the strengths and challenges of working with national and local NGOs in South Sudan’s emergency following the escalation of conflict on 15 December 2013, and reviews how the broader humanitarian system facilitates or prevents their involvement.

At the height of the violence churches in Juba became ‘safe havens’ as people were forced to flee their homes and found refuge in places of worship where volunteers distributed essential food and medicine. Across South Sudan, churches hosted tens of thousands of displaced people in their compounds, receiving limited funding for food and other emergency provisions via international faith-based partners, members, and individual donations. The permanent presence and country-wide networks particularly of churches, brings significant benefits to the overall humanitarian response.

Water and sanitation materials ready for distribution at a church in Juba.

Displaced children with soap following an NFI distribution at a church compound in Katigiri.

Flooding can also affect distribution of aid as well as the ongoing conflict.

Local mothers attending a nutritional screening centre set up by Tearfund.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit South Sudan, and see for myself how the different actors work together in meeting the needs of the displaced population. What striked me most was the commitment from the INGOs and the examples cited of local and national organisations engaging communities, understanding culture, and building trust.

As the Missed Out research demonstrated when an INGO in Aweil East encountered difficulties in distribution of food vouchers, a group of church leaders from three denominations was able to talk to the community about the purpose of the distribution, and persuade those not included to let the distribution continue peacefully. The group was also well placed to understand and identify gaps in assistance: when vulnerable people were excluded it was the church representatives they sought out for help and information.

There were also notable examples of faith-based groups providing voluntary assistance and taking personal risks to provide protection for their communities. Church leaders described sheltering thousands of people in their compounds in the days after the crisis, sleeping in doorways, preventing the entry of armed soldiers, and negotiating for food from local business owners and NGOs. One recounted:

“I slept at the gate in my collar and full clerical dress, with only my bare hands… I said this is a place of life: I won’t have violence here. If I had been scared, I could not have prevented it, I could not have prevented the atrocities. But the people were vulnerable. They were children and the elderly who could not even run. For those days I had real courage and I was very bold and talked without fear. Nobody died in the compound.”

In protracted crises like South Sudan, addressing the root causes by building peace and resilience are just as vital as responding to the emergency needs. Again, this is a space where national actors have huge potential. Funding is primarily limited by a lack of capacity in the church institutions and a lack of understanding as to how they operate, on the part of many international humanitarian actors. Recognising the value of the existing and potential role of the churches through stronger relationships and networks could benefit humanitarian efforts, peace-building and recovery.

Addressing power imbalances

While international organisations bring essential professional expertise and mechanisms, complementarity is not favoured in a system which prioritises immediacy and short-term value for money. That’s why at Tearfund we’re advocating that concepts of partnership should consist of flexible ways of enhancing capabilities and capacities, and explore more innovative approaches to enhance comparative advantages. Maximising the role of national actors will require changes to the humanitarian system and include the nature of donor, the UN and INGO support to the capacity of national actors as professional humanitarians, going beyond a tick box approach to representation.

I wait, hopeful that these discussions will lead to firm commitments and action from the World Humanitarian Summit, which is taking place in May. Power imbalances need to be addressed and spaces created, particularly at a local level, where the full range of national organisations can take part in decision making. I long to see a transformed humanitarian system that invests in long-term partnerships that builds local capacity and resilience before, during and after an emergency.

December 11, 2015 by mattcurrey

There are over 30,000 people charging around the organised chaos that is the negotiating rooms of Le Bourget in Paris all trying to close a global climate deal in the next few hours. I have come with one question in mind: how do we get an agreement here in Paris that works for the very poorest people in the world? Earlier this week I heard from Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who has the unenviable task of pulling all of this together into a deal by the weekend. She said we need an agreement which “meets national and local needs, keeps scientific integrity, and promotes prosperity for all”.  It is her words “for all” that resonate most strongly with me.

My country India is both a contributor and a victim of climate change. We are the world’s fourth largest carbon emitter. But we are also the world’s second most populous country and over 30 per cent of our population do not yet have access to electricity, essential for development. My work with Tearfund partner, EFICOR means day in day out I am working alongside the very poorest people in my country who are hit first and hardest by climate change.

We have 7,500 kilometres of coast line (including island territories) with 73 coastal districts and are therefore highly susceptible to rising sea levels. Some 16 per cent of our country, ten states, are in the Himalayas where climate change is causing landslides and glacial melt. In the last three years we have seen terrible floods in Uttarakhand, Cyclone Phailin devastate Orissa, flooding in Uttar Pradesh as a result of glacial melt, flooding in Kashmir and now the worst flooding in Chennai for 114 years where 280 people have died and nearly 70 per cent of the city is affected. At the same time there are 302 out of 676 districts declared officially in drought and we had unprecedented heat waves this year. Climate change is affecting us seriously, there is food insecurity, water stress, sinking livelihood opportunities, forcing people to leave their places and migrate. I have witnessed distress migration, human trafficking and farmer suicides from our communities where we are working. It is always the poorest who bear the brunt of such climate catastrophe.

So what I want to see is a ray of hope for the poor communities of India that I work with coming from the talks in Paris. We need an ambitious, legally binding, durable and just deal. That means an agreement to limit global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels or less than that, which will save us from the worst impacts of climate change. I am hopeful that we can get a good deal here because of the emissions cuts each nation has offered to make before coming to Paris. Together these would reduce warming from four degrees to 2.7 degrees. That would not be all we need, but would be a great start we can build on in the next few years to finally get us to 1.5.

Can this conference be of real use for the future? To get to a good result nations need to stop blaming each other and all work together. If we don’t act now future generations will hold us all responsible. The destiny of the communities I work with will be decided in the next few hours. The conference has entered a critical phase, the climax of the talks. Please join me in praying for all who are making these huge decisions.

December 9, 2015 by mattcurrey

Sarah Wiggins offers some reflections from Paris through the eyes of people she has spent the past week with.

‘If there is a silver lining, beautiful in this situation, it is that we are all being required to acknowledge that we are all here, we exist together.’ John Mark McMillan, Paris, December 2015

The climate talks at COP21 in Paris is a vibrant place to be. World leaders are here – people like President Hollande can be glimpsed being corralled towards their next appointments by throngs of suits, camera people and mobile-phone-shutter-happy-observers.

There are drones, helicopters and police on horseback. Transport is running well – no mean feat because 35,000+ people are being ferried about each day. It’s a slick business (apart from the long queues for baguettes and crêpes at lunch time!).

John Mark McMillan (quoted above) and three other well-known US worship leaders – Sarah McMillan, William Matthews (Bethel) and Stephen Roach (Songs of Water) (see his blog about what happened here) all came to Paris to expand their personal understanding of the issues, fully conscious of the responsibility that comes both with understanding, and with having influence through their music.

As we wandered around together, we met a plethora of people who cared passionately and are also playing their part – from child campaigners, to Amazonian Indians, to scientists, to vegetarians, to Bishops, to Presidents.

The diversity and energy of people at COP21 relays a conviction of hope and encouragement: a vast array of differences, and yet unity amongst so many people who are sincerely working to take care of our precious world and our global family.

‘Once you are made aware of something there is an individual response. …We need to say “God, now is the time to act”. Otherwise it will have repercussions.’ Stephen Roach, Paris, December 2015

One group of people who are ardently calling on the world to act in this, the second week of the climate talks, is the leaders of the climate vulnerable countries. They are persevering in presenting a vision for a strong agreement that will make a way for us to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees. Over 100 of the 196 countries taking part in these talks have voiced support for this. Although we know that countries’ current commitments in Paris will only get us from 4 degrees to 2.7 degrees global warming, we can still get an agreement that makes a way for us to ratchet up cuts in the coming years, so that 1.5 degrees really can be achieved. Some countries continue to oppose this goal. However, the moral imperative to care for the gift of Creation and to love our neighbour is gaining momentum.

‘As [Ireland’s former President] Mary Robinson said to us “In the Titanic, the workers went down, and the first class went down. It will affect us all some day.”’ Sarah McMillan, Paris, December 2015

With the sense of common good that permeates many civil society actions and events at COP21 it’s possible to believe we will have an outcome that can pave the way for a 1.5 degree future. From presidents, to worship leaders, to people in the pews, we all need to act out of justice and of love, to take courage and to continue to pray.

‘We have met a ton of people who have a hopeful nature. People who are fully engaged in this still say it is hopeful.’ William Matthews, Paris, December 2015

December 7, 2015 by mattcurrey

As the COP21 Conference enters it’s second week, Bishop Efraim M. Tendero The Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance reflects on his time at the conference and the role the global church can play in this issue going forward.

We came from 195 countries to Paris, some 40,000 individuals from government, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, Non Government Organizations and civil society for the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference.

I salute all the participants for working hard to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

This international political response to climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, that adopted the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This convention set out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

As part of the Philippine delegation and assisted by our long time relief and partner Tearfund I came to Paris with two purposes: to seek climate justice and to advocate for the engagement of the religious sector in the Conference of Parties.

One of the causes of the major weather disturbances in the world that brings super typhoons like Haiyan (aka, Yolanda) in the Philippines, and the drying of lands in Australia, and flooding in Pakistan is the warming of the earth’s surface due to the emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

As one of the vulnerable countries to climate disturbance, the Philippines contributes only 0.28% of the carbon emissions of the world, while the top ten big countries in the world emits 67% of the world’s total, with the United States of America and China alone contributing 42% of it. Climate justice calls for the big economies to drastically reduce their carbon footprint to lessen the rate of increase of the warming of the earth’s oceans and further to contribute to the global fund that will help the vulnerable countries finance their adaptation and mitigation programmes to the negative effects of global warming. Justice demands that the ones largely responsible for the cause of climate chaos must help those that are adversely affected by such turbulences.

There were also occasions where I was able to pitch on the agenda of advocating for the involvement of the religious sector in this global response. It is glaring that the overwhelming majority of the 40,000 participants come from the academic, business, political, media, and scientific sectors while the religious participants can can counted with my fingers. It is a pity that the multi faith sector are not recognized nor given the opportunity to engage in negotiations for agreements that will be binding to all nations. While we recognize the scientific and political bases of our actions, we must not forget the moral and spiritual dimension of climate change.

The importance of engaging the faith sector in addressing this global survival is seen in three areas. First, we bring the moral dimension on the issue. The decision to reduce carbon footprint is rooted on the ethical foundation that human life needs to protected and nurtured. Shifting to renewable sources of energy over against the harmful fossil based energy is not only a scientific endeavor, but an ethical action that seeks the survival and well being of humanity.

Second the religious can enforce action on a universal scale. The universal distribution and grass roots contact of faith leaders makes the mobilization for whatever strategies and actions needs to be taken in the mitigation and adaptation programs in lessening the negative effects of climate change. People will listen more to their religious leaders than their political, science, and civic leaders.

Finally, the faith sector can bring the element of hope. There is distrust and suspicion that crept within the hearts of people brought by the pain for the loss of lives and properties due to weather disturbances. There is cynicism in others who cannot see progress in all the 20 years of unfulfilled commitments in the past negotiations. But the faith leaders can illicit hope that beyond human limitations is the Divine that desires the fullness of life for all of humanity. That humanity can enjoy the abundance of this planet that God has created and sustains by His power despite our wanton abuse and misuse of the earth’s resources. And ultimately our hopes hinges on the affirmation that in Jesus all things were created by Him, through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

Bishop Efraim M. Tendero is the Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance He is also quoted in this recent  Guardian article that features the work of Tearfund and the role of the church and faith communities in bringing hope and solutions to the challenge of climate change

June 18, 2015 by Sue Willsher

By Rich Gower and Sue Willsher

Today the Pope officially released his much anticipated message on climate change – an ‘Encyclical’ to his Bishops around the world. Much fuss has been made of the Pope ‘wading’ into an issue that’s seen as being about economics and politics rather than faith, for example US Presidential candidate Jeb Bush: “I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

However, this shows exactly why it is so important for the Pope to speak out: as long as climate change is seen as a political or economic issue – rather than a moral one – we are unlikely to make the changes necessary to address it. The climate movement needs to learn the lessons of previous movements, such as US civil rights movement, and do more to make the moral case for action.

Here are three things that the Pope and Martin Luther King seem to have in common:

1. Making the moral case

Martin Luther King – and the Pope – both know that people act when something touches their sense of right and wrong.

For example, today, it seems obvious that policies such as segregation were immoral.  When children read about it in their schoolbooks, its abolition is portrayed as a great triumph of freedom over injustice.  However, people didn’t always see it like this.

Many Americans initially viewed the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of national security.  As tensions with the USSR rose, opponents worked hard to cast Civil Rights leaders as communist sympathisers, or at least argued that now was not the time for social upheaval.

It was only when campaigners such as King succeeded in defining segregation as immoral that they were able to trump other concerns and see it abolished: “And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong… If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The Pope gets that the science is clear on the problem – that climate change is widely viewed as man-made, that there are clear and evidence-based solutions – including a global agreement at the crucial Climate talks in Paris in December. But what we now need is persuading people that the problem is worth addressing – now. We need stronger motivations and a winning of hearts and minds.

The pope is “aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society.”

As a society and as a planet, we need to realise that addressing climate change has as much to do with justice, love, duty, and honour as it does with economics.

2. Having a resonant story

Facts on their own rarely move people to change, it also requires stories that help, as we set out in Tearfund’s new thought piece the Restorative Economy  “people and societies make sense of where they are, how they got there, where they are trying to get to and how to achieve change. Stories that define our worldview and have the potential to create our reality as much as they describe it, such as Jesus’ parables or the ones that Churchill told Britain in 1940”.

Civil Rights activist Andrew Young remembers, “when Martin would talk about leaving the slavery of Egypt and wandering into the promised land… that made sense to folks.” (Rochon, 1998, Culture Moves. p56)  Similarly, the Pope sets the issue of climate change within the larger story of humankind’s God-given role of stewarding our home – earth.

“We need stories that “help us think in terms of a larger us – one that moves from ‘people like us’ to simply ‘people – like us’.  A longer future – beyond the next news cycle, financial quarter or election – looking out instead for generations to come.  And a better ‘good life’ – an understanding that security, consumption and well-being are not three words that all mean the same thing”.

3. Patience in speaking truth to power

Finally, we need to recognise that we need to be in it for the long game. King worked tirelessly on civil rights for many years until his assassination in 1968. Previous Popes have written on creation, but Pope Francis is the first to link the issues of environment, economy and poverty – and speak directly on climate change.

As we make clear in the Restorative Economy report, “political and social change doesn’t unfold in a steady, linear fashion: instead it is complex, unpredictable and takes time. There is often a long period when our efforts seem to yield few results. But then comes a tipping point, after which events snowball and things suddenly start to fall into place. The Jubilee 2000 campaign is a great example: comprehensive debt cancellation was an idea that was first put forward in the 1980s, but it took nearly two decades for it to come to fruition.”
Already, increasing numbers of people are starting to see climate change and the policies that support it as immoral, and the Pope’s encyclical should help ‘move the needle’ even further. Recent ComRes polling commissioned by Tearfund shows Christians recognise that the environment and climate change problems are the main issues facing the world over the next ten years. So, the Pope’s ‘wading in’ is exactly what the climate movement needs – and many in the movement realise this. In and of itself it won’t change behaviour, but it does provide a great invitation and indeed, a strong urging, for all people to take these issues seriously.

May 15, 2014 by jokhinmaung

This is a Guest Post from Stephanie Beecroft, Advocacy Officer for EU-CORD, a network of 22 Christian Organisations in Relief and Development of which Tearfund is a member. 

If you’ve kept up with any of the news coverage or the party campaigns for the May elections in recent weeks, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the future of the UK within Europe will be wrapped up that day.

Whether the UK should be ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the European Union is clearly an important issue for voters, but the question won’t actually be decided at the European elections. Thursday, 22 May won’t provide the backdrop for a final showdown on membership of the EU.

What the election campaigns probably haven’t told you is the importance of the European Parliament elections for the global fight to end poverty. And yet, they will have far-reaching consequences, impacting on the EU’s ability and willingness to support communities living in poverty or victims of disasters around the world.

The European Union as a whole is the world’s biggest donor of development and humanitarian aid and the world’s largest trading bloc. Policy and funding decisions made at EU level have a significant impact around the world. The European Parliament can play a strong and decisive role for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

It can be the difference between an EU that takes aid funding seriously and one that consistently fails to live up to its commitments. It can be the difference between an EU that cares about conflicts and crises around the world and one that turns its back and pretends not to see. It can be the difference between an EU that promotes transparency, accountability and development that works for people, and one that puts business and profits first.

Back in 2012 I supported Tearfund to lobby the European Parliament, calling on MEPs to support new laws demanding that European extractive companies publish the payments they make for oil, gas and precious minerals in countries where they operate. The EU passed this legislation last year, providing communities in natural resource-rich countries with the opportunity to see how much money their governments are receiving and hold them to account.

The European Parliament played a big role in pushing through this unprecedented legislation. If the Parliamentarians had been less favourable to the plight of those living in poverty around the world or unwilling to listen to the likes of Tearfund campaigners and partner Bishop Stephen Munga from Tanzania, that legislation might not have been passed. A European Parliament whose members are less favourable to development for the next five years might lead to the failure of policies and legislation that could be equally important for the communities that Tearfund supports.

Whatever your position on the European Union it is important to realise that decisions made by the European Parliament can have a big impact on people living in poverty and at risk of disasters around the world. Your vote and your choice of candidates in the European elections can make a difference to the direction of those decisions. Before heading to the polling station on 22 May, it’s important to know what the different candidates and parties in your constituency stand for. If you’re unsure what they think, can help you find out.

As you head to vote in the European elections, ask yourself what kind of Europe you want to see. If that Europe is a Europe that puts people first and stands against inequality and unfair policies in the world, use your vote wisely.

For more about the elections read the EU-CORD elections briefing or the BOND election manifesto.

January 21, 2014 by Caroline

For the launch of Tearfund’s media report ‘Overcrowded and overlooked’ this is a guest blog post by Rupen Das. Rupen is the Director of one of Tearfund’s partnering organisations helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

As the crisis in Syria and its neighbouring countries enters its third year, it is heart breaking that the humanitarian situation is getting worse, and a peace deal through the diplomatic talks seems unreachable.

The conflict has been described as the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war. The scale of the response is hugely challenging as more than 2.2 million Syrians are hosted in the region placing unprecedented strain on communities, infrastructure and services in host countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

In Lebanon, where displaced Syrians now equal one-third of the population, there is huge strain on communities, infrastructure and services. Unlike Syria’s other neighbours there are currently no official camps in Lebanon for Syrians. While the UN has made great efforts to improve refugee registration, given the continued unprecedented increase of refugees, Lebanon and the other hosting countries still need practical and financial support. The burden on them is immense and unsustainable.

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Photo: Tearfund

Some Syrians who have fled are living with host communities such as friends and relatives. However, as space is finite within homes this can mean up to 30 people living in one bedroom apartments. Many others are renting accommodation in the highly inflationary private housing market, or being forced to find whatever shelter they can in empty and derelict buildings, or in informal tent  settlements. Some of the least fortunate can be seen sleeping rough under bridges, in parks and on the streets.

With an estimated 84 percent of refugees living outside camps, increased outreach capacity is needed to ensure all persons of concern have access to information and counselling regarding their status and available services. That’s why aid agencies like Tearfund are using local-based partner organisations and churches to support hundreds of vulnerable Syrians who are now living outside of formal camp settlements.

Caring for those who are not part of the mainstreams of society like refugees because of their brokenness and rejection is, amongst other things, a core part of how the church responds to those in need.

During challenging times churches can become places of compassion for anyone regardless of their faith or ethnic background. They are stepping out of their comfort zones and reaching out to those who do not belong to their group or community.  In Lebanon, many of the churches are demonstrating what forgiveness and reconciliation looks like through their acts of compassion as they forgive Syrians for their twenty year occupation of the country.

Three Syrian boys living in a make-shift informal camp in Lebanon. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Local faith communities are often crucial operational partners assisting larger agencies. Practical examples of this include registering asylum seekers, community peace building, conflict mitigation, promoting sustainable livelihoods, and gender and child protection[1].  Partnerships formed by the faith-based agencies can have a significant advantage in this respect, being able to tap into pre-existing local networks to identify and respond to needs as they arise.

However we cannot do it alone, and we all need to work together – the UN, donors, large development agencies, different faith based organisations and local civil society. As the crisis continues, it is clear that while humanitarian assistance is vital, particularly for the refugees and host communities, a great hope of those who fled is to return to Syria.

Above all, they want the international community to invest in a peace plan for Syria to end the bloodshed and suffering.

Coverage of Tearfund’s partner work in Lebanon was broadcast on Channel 5 News which you can watch below

September 9, 2013 by Rosanne White

I went on my first demonstration when I was seven.

It was 1992 and John Major’s government had announced yet more education cuts. I lived in a small town where no-one had very much really and this was yet another thing in a long line of off-the-cuff policies that restricted potential and kept us in our place.

So we took to the streets. I clutched my mother’s hand as we huddled in the shadow of the war memorial in the centre of town, others holding lanterns and homemade banners. We sang hymns and clapped our hands. My memory of my first foray into activism is fairly foggy, but I can quite imagine that the local policeman stopped by to have a chat and a cup of weak tea. Beyond tame, particularly when you consider the far more impressive story told by one of my schoolfriends of being held aloft during the poll tax riots.

My point here, other than indulging my own memories of a precocious childhood, is that while the bobble-hat wearing, banner-toting group of locals in that small Somerset town didn’t even come close to stopping the tide of cuts which crashed over us so forcefully in the weeks and months that followed, we had stood up for what we believed in. Everyone wrote letters to the Education Secretary, (including me, receiving a broadly sympathetic but generally patronising response a month later) and spoke to the local MP.

Why had we taken the time to protest? Because education was, and still is, one of a number of hugely important political issues which quite rightly define the outcomes of elections. After all, democracy is about being free to question and speak out on the issues that concern you, whether you agree with the Government of the day or not.

Last week, MPs voted to plough on with the ‘Transparency, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration’ Bill, or the Lobbying Bill. It was introduced a couple of days before the summer parliamentary recess and aims to crack down on illicit influencing of politicians by introducing a ‘Register of Lobbyists’. This all sounds pretty positive – as a lobbyist myself, I’m frankly disgusted that so-called corporate ‘in-house lobbyists’ can lay on the hospitality, tip those in power the wink and pave the way for big business to get what it wants.

The thing is, it would be perfectly understandable if illegal lobbying by corporates was the main focus of the Bill – although incidentally, the Register of Lobbyists bit doesn’t go far enough as it only deals with the lobbying of Government Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries by lobbying consultants, whereas MPs, Peers and Special Advisers are still fair game – but it isn’t. The Bill has two other parts, dealing with ‘non-party campaigning etc’ and trade unions respectively, which is when things start to get slightly sinister.

Part Two of the Bill introduces new, strict rules which will very likely impose significant restrictions on the campaigning of organisations like Tearfund, as well as much smaller organisations and community groups, such as churches, for the twelve months leading up to a General Election. Our expenditure on awareness-raising activities like media and events would now be covered, as well as logistical things like transport and the costs of employing our staff.  The Bill also lowers how much organisations can spend on these activities by 60%-70% – if we spend more, we could face prosecution if these activities are deemed to be ‘for election purposes’. A little will now have to go a very long way. On top of that, the Government plans to aggregate the spending of campaigning coalitions (like the IF campaign), so every involved organisation or agency will likely have to account for the spending of the whole. The upshot? It’s not just the big organisations that will be affected, grassroots campaigners might also feel the force of the Bill’s bile too. In fact you could say (if this goes ahead), we’ll all be in it together. Ironic, really.

Let’s be clear, there are existing rules on non-party campaigning, namely the ‘Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000’ (PPERA). This means that UK charities, NGOs and other voluntary organisations can’t engage in election-bending activities like the so-called US super-PACs. Thanks to the new legislation, in-house corporate lobbyists will still be able to have their quiet dinners and behind-closed-door chats in those all-important pre-election months, while civil society will be restricted by how much we can call the Government up about it. In short, as it stands, the Bill won’t clean up politics or properly right the wrongs we’d hoped it would.

21 years after my first demonstration, I’ve lost count of the number of campaign cards I’ve signed, events I’ve organised, protests I’ve attended. I’ve seen ground-breaking policy change (the Arms Trade Treaty anyone, 0.7, debt cancellation?) and I’m only one person. What would it mean if we all stopped taking legitimate action because we were worried about breaking the rules or getting the organisations we support into trouble?

Today, MPs will be taking part in the first of three days of Committee Stage of the Bill. This will be heard as a Committee of the Whole House in the Main Chamber, rather than in a Public Bill Committee of a few MPs poring over the Bill line-for-line. With the Prime Minister’s G20 statement and a tribute debate to Prince George on the agenda preceding it, the opportunity for discussion during day one of Committee Stage looks like it’ll be limited. Right now, from where I’m standing, it all seems pretty bleak.

Want to take action? Click here for a Tearfund Nudge.

A briefing on the Lobbying Bill is here.

September 3, 2013 by BenNiblett

Jubilee 2000 making their point

Next time Justin Welby wants to have a go at Wonga, it looks like he’ll need a permit from the Electoral Commission first. I’m worried the Lobbying Bill – or Gagging Bill – will stop charities, churches, and civil society speaking out about things that matter.

Campaigning’s a vital part of a living democracy. I remember the Sun ran a ‘Bash the Bishop’ campaign a few years ago, inviting people to tell off the Archbishop of Canterbury after he said something they didn’t like. I liked the headline, I loathed the campaign. But I want to live in a country where newspapers, archbishops, charities and all of us are free to hold different views and say so, loudly if we want to, and whether I agree with them or not.

And I want charities and churches to be free to be controversial when the people we serve need us to. Syria, fracking, food banks, disability rights, fostering – there are many reasons for voluntary groups to speak up and represent people. Charities have a purpose, serving people in poverty around the world in Tearfund’s case, and campaigning’s often a useful way to do what we exist to do.

But the government’s draft Lobbying Bill looks likely to shut us up. When both Conservative Home and Polly Toynbee oppose something, I sit up and take notice.

I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate attack on civil liberties or a mess made in a hurry, and Tearfund supports more lobbying transparency (through the Open Government Partnership here for example), but at the moment the bill’s set to stop any group that’s not a political party from talking about anything that might feature in any election campaign – local, Europe, national, referendum or any other kind – and tie us up with vague, expensive and complex regulation. As the NCVO – the voluntary sector’s umbrella group – explains

Jubilee 2000 was a great campaign that worked – the kind of campaign this bill would jeopardise. Party politically, it was neutral, but it changed what politicians did. Tearfund and many others spoke out asking governments to cancel the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries. We knew that countries which couldn’t afford it were struggling to make interest payments to countries with far more money. Partly we just thought it was wrong, and partly we could see a chance to use that money to reduce poverty instead.

So far $130 billion of debt has been cancelled. Uganda used the money they saved on debt payments to abolish primary school fees – so children who couldn’t afford to go to school could now start their education. Mozambique have immunised over a million children against deadly diseases. The list goes on. I reckon it would take Tearfund roughly 1,000 years to raise the kind of money our campaigning unlocked – I think we’d spend it even better, but campaigning to get governments to do things on a scale we could only dream of has been a great investment of our time and money. This video follows the story

As Christians, we liked the idea of Jubilee – a special year every 50 years for setting slaves free, forgiving debts, and restoring equality. It’s set out in the bible in Leviticus 25, and mentioned again in Isaiah 61, which Jesus quoted at the start of his ministry. Justice is part of our faith, and campaigning’s one way we live it.

Campaigning doesn’t always work – for example the Jubilee Debt Campaign hasn’t yet won a system for countries to go bankrupt and start again in the way companies and people can. But it often works well for charities, churches, and civil society more generally, as Martin Luther King told us.

Do pray for the government to amend the Lobbying Bill so it doesn’t gag churches, charities and civil society, and do ask your MP to push for the changes it needs. Tweeting @david_cameron and @nick_clegg wouldn’t go amiss either.

Ben Niblett (Head of Campaigns)

January 30, 2013 by Caroline

Another report on aid, wait a minute one that is actually based on the opinions and experiences of those who receive aid?! Yes I’m talking about the latest publication Time to Listen, which is a refreshing and welcome contribution to the debate about how effective aid really is.

This may not be the first time a report has focused on recipients – the very people it is trying to lift out of poverty  – but I do feel that its release is timely given the recent anti-aid  rhetoric, which  fuel unhelpful media headlines.

Don’t get me wrong it’s important not to look at the role of aid through rose-tinted glasses. Neither is it useful to totally dismiss some of the real and tangible benefits that it can bring just because donor budgets are being stretched due to tough economic times.

We need a more sophisticated and balanced critique of the whole aid system. Scrutiny, when done well, puts the focus on experimentation, feedback and real-time learning. We learn to adapt by making small changes, observing the results, and then adjusting. This open kind of scrutiny both with donor and recipient on how we can make aid work better should become the norm.

That’s why I like this report. It does not shy away from exposing the problems faced on the ground.

Interestingly as I read it, it gets me thinking that the church often does what this book’s calling the aid industry to do such as aid workers to become more rooted in communities, local people to be seen as colleagues and drivers of their own development and collaborative decision making.

Local church meeting. Source Tearfund

In the Western world we can forget that community groups like churches  are among the world’s most powerful grassroots networks, particularly in the global South. They have the ability of bringing people together to agree and work together to achieve a safe, healthy, productive and sustainable future for their village, town or city.

Once the local church is mobilised, it becomes a facilitator rather than the provider. It seeks to envision and empower community members to identify and respond to their own needs, rather than meeting those needs for them. The local church works with rather than for the community.

Sometimes that means digging wells or pit latrines to improve sanitation, sometimes it means providing emotional support to the bereaved. Fundamental to the church community mobilisation process is challenging the injustices of our day as well as supporting the most vulnerable people in the neighbourhood, whoever they may be.

One of Tearfund’s partners Eficor (the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief) in India, run the Poor Area Civil Society programme funded by DFID which monitors the national rural employment guarantee scheme to fund 100 days of work for each person currently living in poverty. That’s a great way to spend aid money; empowering local communities to make sure their government deliver on the work they’ve committed to do.

Self help group in India. Source Tearfund

And the church should not be immune to scrutiny either, we know that it isn’t perfect and that it doesn’t always gets it right. That’s why Tearfund’s church community mobilisation process has a rigorous monitoring and evaluation component – to identify when problems arise and how we can learn from them so that communities are better equipped. We believe that scrutiny is good and it must be done all the time, so we can be very clear about how our money is being spent.

It is clear that aid is not the magic silver bullet to solve poverty. Nonetheless countries like the UK should still stick to their aid commitment to give less than one per cent of our national income to the world’s poorest. Our aid programmes should continue to be reviewed by regulatory bodies such as the National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

The debate must move towards a more intelligent approach of how we can make aid smarter, looking at additional ways to finance development to avoid dependency and, a bit like the local church, how we can work with poor communities to give them the tools and opportunities to hold their own governments to account in the decisions made that affect their livelihoods for the better.