Cut Military Spending – Fund Human Needs

15th April 2014 - by Ellen Teague

Columban JPIC and lay missionaries challenged military spending in Whitehall, Central London, yesterday. Fr Peter Hughes, Ellen Teague and James Trewby were joined by Nathalie Marytsch, a lay missionary based in Birmingham, and Beth Sabado of the Lay Missionary Programme leadership team in Hong Kong.


‘NHS not Trident’ ‘Jobs not Trident’ ‘Homes not Trident’ ‘Climate not Trident’ were among the banners heading down a sunny Whitehall on the morning of 14 April. It was the Global Day of Action on Military Spending and representatives of the UK-based coalition – including Pax Christi, Christian CND, the National Justice and Peace Network, the Iona Community and Columban JPIC – were visiting five government departments to urge that military spending be shifted towards social and environmental needs. They wanted the money to be spent on tackling poverty, improving health, and protecting the environment. While the British government is protecting the military budget, vital public services are subject to drastic spending cuts.

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi and one of the organisers, led the group of around 60 people first to the Department for International Development (DFID) at 22 Whitehall. She explained that the UK plans to spend £38 billion on its military in 2014/15. Along with John Hilary of War on Want, she tried to hand in a large cheque for £38 billion to DFID, explaining that the money should be used to promote peace and development, rather than military projects. DFID refused to accept it.
There was better fortune at the Department of Energy and Climate Change across the road, which took its cheque for £38 billion plus a letter urging that money be devoted to addressing climate impacts and flood defences rather than military expenditure. Pat Gaffney and Ellen Teague of Columban JPIC were greeted warmly and thanked.

Then it was a walk past Downing Street to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where Bruce Kent, a Vice president of Pax Christi, handed in another cheque for £38 billion, and deplored world military expenditure of a massive $1.75 trillion. He urged the big development agencies such as CAFOD, Christian Aid, and Save the Children Fund to be more forthright in condemning hefty military expenditure. He expressed surprise that in the current context of global socio-economic crisis, few have voiced indignation regarding the disproportionate levels of military spending.

At the Department of Health, the cheque was again accepted and staff there were challenged to consider that “military spending is bad for health”, and “a militarised world is bad for health”. A speaker from MEDACT said that “if Trident was scrapped, the saving of £100 billion could go towards the NHS and social care”. It was felt to be scandalous that 1 in 4 children in the UK grow up in poverty, that 20,000 disabled people will lose support for the basics in life when the Independent Living Fund closes, and that thirteen times more people are relying on foodbanks to survive than did five years ago. Meanwhile, the UK’s military spending is among the highest in the world.

The Ministry of Defence in nearby Horseguards Avenue took in a cancelled cheque for £38 billion from Pat Gaffney and Kate Hudson, Chair of CND, who said she was “proud to be part of this coalition against military spending”. She continued: “While the British public are living through the deepest spending cuts in recent history, the government still sees fit to waste over £100bn on a Cold War weapons system and to spend £38bn on the military this year alone. The Global Day of Action on Military Spending is a vital challenge to the skewed priorities of this government, and governments around the world who choose weapons of war over the welfare of their people.”

The protest concluded with Pat Gaffney underlining that military expenditure threatens human security. She particularly called for Britain to reject plans to renew its Trident nuclear weapons system. Given the numerous crises facing the planet – environmental, economic, health, diplomatic – it is necessary to strengthen and expand the global movement to shift military spending to human needs. She pointed out that similar actions took place in Oxford, Coventry, Leeds, Bristol and other cities and in 35 countries around the world on 14 April, the annual global day to challenge military expenditure.

Beth Sabado reflected afterwards: “It was good to create this noise – helping people to hear what we have to say about spending on the military.”