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14 June 2013

A common treasury

A common treasury

The newly-appointed social mobility tsar James Caan got off to an underwhelming start. Having advocated the importance for parents to "let the child stand on his own two feet" when finding work, it emerged that the entrepreneur had employed his daughter at his private equity firm. Confronted with the paradox, Caan said that parents will always have an "innate feeling to help their children into jobs".

A government spokesperson added: "I think you would expect every parent to want the best for their children. I think what's really important here is that, no matter where you are from, you should be able to succeed and fulfill your potential.”

The principle that each child has the right to reach its potential is the founding principle of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign . Not only parents but governments also have the responsibility to provide the basics for flourishing. It widens the UK political remit from providing apprenticeships at home to tackling tax avoidance and land grabbing overseas, to reforming the commodities markets and beyond.

The Unicef goodwill ambassador Angélique Kidjo recounts her childhood in Benin surrounded by the silent emergency of starvation – the slow creep of malnutrition that hinders learning and stunts growth: “Once that damage is done, there’s no winding back the clock.” At present nearly half of Benin’s children are classified as such. The advocacy by a Christian development NGO along with four others helps farmers in Benin form associations to strengthen their legal position in a context of illegal land confiscation.

Wind back the clock to 17th century England, when radicals argued for major land reform. Traditional forms of provision had failed. The Levellers argued for a new understanding of how land might be made available to the disinherited and hungry: shared land and shared labour. They believed that an equal relationship with the land could form the basis for a just society and underpin human dignity in work.

Co-founder and Protestant reformer Gerrard Winstanley argued that land is meant to be "a common treasury of livelihood to whole mankind, without respect of persons". Their vision that the land could feed all "Sons of one Father, members of one Family" is found in The True Levellers’ Standard Advanced: “That we may work in righteousness, and lay the foundation of making the earth a common treasury for all, both rich and poor.”

Founding their New Law of Righteousness in the biblical text that all believers had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:44-45), the Levellers fervently argued for the lot of the poor to be made more equitable. Law reformer John Cooke, shortly before his execution, wrote: "We are not traitors or murderers or fanatics, but true Christians and good commonwealthsmen."

Fast-forward four centuries and we find ourselves passionately arguing the case for the poor on a worldwide stage. The earth can feed all children of one Father. However, the rich, old world can’t fix the food crises . It needs a brave new world and a brave new economy. ‘Oikonomia’, meaning the principle (nomos) with which we rule our household (oikos), is both personal and political. It needs ‘commonwealthspeople’ making radical changes in our private household as well as our corporate one.

Faith and development go indeed hand in hand, as Sophie Ayling eloquently argues. A meaningful way to mark Father’s Day is to steward the earth as a Common Treasury for All, feeding all His children and providing them with a good start. It’s as much about innate feelings, as good politics and biblical mandates. Relationally richer. More costly.

Marijke Hoek is co-editor of Carnival Kingdom and Micah's Challenge.