Pupils from four schools and representatives from three parishes put questions to Stockton South MP Matt Vickers on cuts to the aid budget, poverty, unjust debts, water and the COVID vaccine.
The event was hosted by Christ the King Primary School in Thornaby in response to CAFOD’s Parliament in Your Parish initiative.
Mr Vickers was put on the spot by pupils from St Patrick’s Primary School and St Thérèse of Lisieux Primary School and St Patrick’s Catholic College.
Parishioners from Christ the King Church and St Patrick’s Church in Thornaby and St Thérèse of Lisieux Church in Ingleby Barwick also took part.
In his introduction, CAFOD volunteer Dr Paddy O’Neill explained that the initiative was supported by all the schools and parishes taking part.
Matthew, from Christ the King Catholic Primary School, said: “We want to know what your policies are concerning global poverty and your steps to try to eradicate it. Since 2010 there has been an increase in foodbanks and 30,000 children live in poverty on Teesside. How are you helping to reduce this?”
Jessica, from St Thérèse Primary School, asked: “How can they justify cutting the aid budget by such a significant amount when many countries around the world continue to face devastation and hardship?”
Darren, a year 10 pupils from St Patrick’s Catholic College in Thornaby, said: “As a Catholic school community, we follow closely the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
“One such principle is the Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, which encourages us to imitate Christ’s love for the poor by working to create a society where the needs of the poor are always considered first.
“Can you honestly say that, as a nation, we are doing this when speaking about the distribution of the COVID vaccine, when on average, one in four people in high-income countries have received a coronavirus vaccine, in comparison to one in more than 500 in low-income countries?”
Isaac, from St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School, said: “Pope Francis has urged us all to reclaim our common home, as the world is in crisis.
“One of the major factors of this is climate change. What action is the government going to take to help our community, the UK and other countries deal with the effects of climate change? And how is the government dealing with climate change?”
Barbara from St Thérèse of Lisieux Church, asked; “Do you agree that we need to work towards reaching net zero emissions by 2045? And what message concerning this will you take to the government on our behalf?”
Steve, a volunteer from St Patrick’s Parish, asked if Mr Vickers supported CAFOD’s call to private creditors to cancel the debts for low- and middle-income countries that request it, to help them recover from the pandemic, play a full part in international processes, including the G20’s Common Framework, granting requests for debt relief through this process, and don’t force take countries that can’t pay to court.”
Jan, a Christ the King parishioner, shared her concerns that the recent cuts to UK overseas aid will result in an 80 per cent reduction in funding to water and sanitation projects, meaning 10m people will lose out on gaining access to clean water this year.
She asked: “Is there anything you can do to limit or reverse the damage that will be caused by these cuts?”
Mr Vickers said they were all good questions. His responses were in line with government policy, but he promised to raise them with the relevant ministers and share their responses with the participants.
We’re sure the children will hold him to that promise!
At the end of the meeting, two children presented Mr Vickers with some artwork and two books for him to read – a copy of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and his book, Dare to Dream.
After the meeting, Dr Paddy said: “I think the comment that most people who contact his office would like government aid spending to be reduced or cut altogether gives an indicator of how important it is for the ‘silent’ majority to counter the vocal minority. Silent no longer!”
If you would like to arrange a meeting with your MP, all the information you need is available on our website, cafod.org.uk/reclaim.