OF FURIOUS CHURCHES, A LOOSE CANON, AND THE POOR

I’ve blogged elsewhere https://godschool.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-bishops-poverty-and-the-letter-to-the-mirror/ and https://godschool.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/one-cross-bishop/ 
about the church’s angry response to the way that this government is driving poor people into destitution, and the way that it ducks moral responsibility by scapegoating a tiny minority. Grrr

However, nobody puts it better than Giles Fraser, the ‘loose Canon’ who resigned from the staff at St Paul’s Cathedral over its (disgraceful) handling of the Occupy London situation.  He’s now a parish priest at St Mary’s Newington, in London, and has scorched a page in the Guardian with this:

‘Yes, the church is bloody angry about these attacks on the poor, and rightly so.
There is nothing ‘moral’ about the government’s portrayal of the vulnerable as scroungers. It is a national disgrace.

Why are we so angry? By we, I mean the clergy…. So let me explain.

Apparently, benefit cuts are popular with the electorate. The idea has been sold to the public that there is a whole class of scroungers which prefers to lounge around on the sofa all day, watching telly, smoking spliffs and drinking lager. Going out and getting a job makes little economic sense to such people. They are lazy and dissolute. An insult to hard-working families everywhere. And nobody likes to have the piss taken out of them, which is what the sofa-lolling brigade have been doing to the rest of us. The “moral” case for benefit cuts is an attempt to re-establish a culture of personal responsibility. It is an attack on the feckless.

We are angry because this is such a distorted picture, an extrapolation from a tiny number of cases into some sort of general rule. And this rule is now being used to disparage a whole class of vulnerable people whose greatest crime in life is to find themselves struggling to get by in the chill winds of a financial climate that was absolutely not of their making.

Since Christmas, my church has turned itself into a homeless shelter once a week. Volunteers cook large batches of shepherd’s pie for hungry people who have been wandering the streets most of the day. We provide a warm bed and a safe place to hang out for the evening. Camp beds are set up in the nave of the church. And bacon rolls and porridge are provided for breakfast. Unfortunately, business is thriving. There is a waiting list for beds. Homelessness has risen 60% in London over the past two years. And half a million people now rely on food banks.

It’s not just churches that are volunteering in this way. And many who help out with us are not themselves religious. But given the local nature of the parish system, and given that churches have an outpost in every community in this country, the clergy are uniquely positioned to understand the effect that financial cuts are having on the ground. And what makes many of us so bloody angry is that the reality of what is happening is not being acknowledged by politicians in government. They don’t feel the need to face this reality because the war against the scroungers is so popular. So long as the rightwing press keeps stoking our sense of indignation at those who exploit the system, the government has little incentive to admit the much wider reality that austerity is turning pockets of Britain into wastelands of hopelessness. The scrounger tag has become a way to blame the poor for their policy. How convenient. Those who created this financial crisis have got away scot free, protected by their money and their lobbying power. So now we blame the poor, a much easier target.

David Cameron, in responding to the churches, has insisted that his is a moral vision too. But no moral vision worthy of the name can remain indifferent to the hunger and homelessness of others. This is morality 101. Indeed, far from operating out of a moral instinct, the government has poisoned the wells of public sympathy by amplifying a fear that vulnerable people are actually sniggering cheats.

Nothing about this shameless sleight of hand is moral. In fact, it’s right out of the bullying handbook. Maybe – just maybe – he is feeling a little bit guilty about all of this. And we often blame those who make us feel guilty. Or we just ignore them. It’s so much easier than admitting our own responsibility for the misery of others. No, prime minister: this is not moral – it’s a national scandal.’

(http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/feb/21/church-bloody-angry-attacks-poor )
(image from theguardian.com )

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17 thoughts on “OF FURIOUS CHURCHES, A LOOSE CANON, AND THE POOR

  1. I am with Giles too, and it is a scandal that the most vulnerable people are scapegoated etc etc :no: I found surviving on benefits impossible. It is not possible to survive on benefits unless you have no phones no internet no heating on and never afford new shoes or clothes…..and you are hassled and hassled to look for a job and hundreds of people go for same job and so on and so on…. horrible. :no: and if Daughter didn’t contribute I would not be able to live within my means :no: and the depressingness of being unemployed absolutely drains and saps your energy – horrible…. is why I prefer to work though I’m not much better off…at least I have self-respect which means a huge amount to people….and makes you feel as if you live in the world as oppose to lurk in its shadows….

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  2. I’m unmoved by the right wing press (The Daily Mail being the worst example) and its denigration of the unemployed. They say much the same about immigrants. The money I usually raise for Children in Need will go to the food banks this Autumn.
    Four of my friends / acquaintances have been unemployed for many years. None of them are seeking work. One is self-sufficient, the other three live off benefits. Two of them haven’t had a job for over twenty years. Younger people of my acquaintance seem more inclined to work than the middle-aged folk I know. I don’t think my scenario is typical and I try to remember that I’m professionally and geographically detached from the hard-up and the desperate. God help ’em.

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    1. I do think a benefits culture encourages dependency, and that’s bad because it makes people resentful and takes away a sense of self-respect. However, stats show that the poorest are those who work in low-paid jobs. That’s where the real poverty lies.

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      1. Yeah, it’s hit Londoners very badly what with the extortionate cost of rents and mortgages. I’m so lucky that I’m paying virtually no rent or council tax.

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  3. Hear hear Giles, it’s so easy to write everyone off, whatever the system a few will always milk it, but the vast majority are suffering through no fault of their own. I’ve noticed a huge increase in homeless people, and after talking to them it’s obvious that they are not alcoholics or drug addicts….many just can’t find a house to rent, but then Thatcher did sell them all off….When I was SW a guy came in asking where he could pitch his small tent as the police kept moving him on, he simply couldn’t find a place to rent within his budget which was tiny as he was homeless…a vicious circle. It’s very hard to get out of the system when you have nothing at all…anyway I’m beginning to rant…xxx

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    1. The worst thing is, that statistics show plainly that the poorest people are those who are actually in work – but it is such rubbish work – part-time, poorly-paid etc – that nobody can live on the money. Time there was an act of parliament insisting on paying everyone a living wage. That’s what a GOOD government would do … :>

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  4. i totally agree with Giles Fraser. The right wing press propagate the idea that there are a group of lazy people out there taking us for fools. There is but they are not the people on Benefits. They are a much more invisible group : there is a group of people determined that they will not contribute to the country which has made them extremely rich, so by various moves they transfer their money from one party to another until it disappears. Except it doesn’t disappear it is hidden in some secret bank account. This is tax evasion and avoidance its worth billions of pounds. This is where HMRC should be directing their attention.

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    1. Exactly. And it’s the question I want our bishops and clergy to direct to the government. Let’s make the invisible, visible – and demand some justice and equality. Trouble is, I can’t help suspecting that a lot of them are ‘friends’ of the wealthy and influential in Parliament. Which makes ignoring them a form of corruption. Rant, rant … :>

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  5. An explosive subject…as always….BUT…one that needs to be ‘aired’ as often as possible…
    Ventilating the subject is the ‘Moral Conscience’ of the World! :yes: Hugs!

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  6. People getting over £25,000 in benefits paid for by people earning £12,000 is also a disgrace……….. something has to motivate people.
    Smoking 40 cigarettes daily costs about £480 per month………….. balance has to seen.
    I am sad for those genuinely impoverished ( we were very poor in my own family and I experienced the pain………….. it still haunts me to think about it but it made me desperate to avoid poverty if possible ) but Shameless on TV and East Enders paints a different picture of idle drunkenness . David

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    1. Giles Fraser’s point is that those who are trying to milk the system are a tiny fraction of a minority. Yes they exist, but we need to be very wary of how things are portrayed in the media. I know for a fact that the media is only interested in negative portrayals, badly-skewed and lazy journalism, anything, however misleading, which will make people buy the papers or watch the programmes. For them it is all about making money, rather than giving an accurate picture. I know this is how they work because of the appalling way they treated the people of the so-called ‘Benefits Street’, whom we know personally. Don’t trust what you watch on the telly.

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      1. I haven’t seen television for 2 months and never saw benefits street…………. but watch East Enders nobody works and they drink constantly morning, noon and night and there are people like that…….. they reflect part of society. I stopped today to help a fellow who was down and nearly out……. he was smoking despite having bronchitis and asthma….. I still gave him a little money and directed him to attend a church for help……….. I’m not cold heartless…………. I know poverty………… it pains me even to think about it but the pain drives some folk to try harder and get out.

        We are competing with a billion Chinese people………….. go into Poundland and see what a pound from China buys …….. ten times more than we can produce here .. If we don’t work harder we will be squashed as time goes by.

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      2. The churches and the clergy do know at first hand the scale of the problem and they know personally the sort of people affected. This isn’t something plucked out of the blue because of an ideology or a prejudice, it is good old-fashioned experience on a national scale. I’m still with Giles:

        ‘We are angry because this is such a distorted picture, an extrapolation from a tiny number of cases into some sort of general rule. And this rule is now being used to disparage a whole class of vulnerable people whose greatest crime in life is to find themselves struggling to get by in the chill winds of a financial climate that was absolutely not of their making.’

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      3. The long and the short of it is that we will all get poorer and need to live with in our means.
        The Scottish Independence referendum could cause much more serious repercussions if the yes campaign wins……….. England and Scotland will be ‘ castrated ‘. Hitler didn’t quite manage it but Alex Salmon seems to be doing his best to ruin us all.

        And his arguments are all about greed and self interest ( oil for Scotland ) not the bigger picture of helping each other.

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