To many of us, sitting on the sidelines while yet another government policy wreaks havoc on those least able to defend themselves has become something of a national sport. Encouraged by their friends in the right wing press, they continue to mistake the silence of the majority for acquiescence especially with regards for those pernicious and unjust policies emanating under the title of “Welfare Reform”. While no one doubts that the welfare bill is high – possibly too high – and in need of meaningful reform, what is frequently overlooked is that according to figures from the DWP, some 42% of the total annual welfare bill (approx £160bn) is taken up by pensions and pension credits, with a further 20% paid for in housing benefit which is now claimed by one in five working families. Job Seekers Allowance however accounts for only 3% of the total, with similar sums accounted for by Employment Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Income Support, hardly the signs of a workshy, benefits-claiming populace so beloved of sections of the mass media. I could go into more depth on the impact of welfare reform but prefer to leave that to those far more cerebral than I on these matters. My reason for posting this blog focuses instead, on the doing of something practical to show my support for those in our society who are having to pay the price for the years of profligacy by bankers and by politicians.
As a Christian as well as a student of Theology, I willingly seek to play my part in achieving two of the Church of England’s five marks of mission; to provide loving service to others and to seek to transform the unjust structures of society. In this I do have previous, being a campaigner on behalf of those living with Motor Neurone (MND) Disease and other life-changing conditions. In recent months as my knowledge of what being of Christian faith is really about and in particular, learning more about Jesus the revolutionary as opposed to Jesus the Prophet, I find myself more willing to now engage directly with the harsher realities of those who are suffering the injustices of poverty, hunger, homelessness and destitution. While organising campaigns and harassing politicians about poor neurological provision has brought much satisfaction on a personal level, compared to what is now happening in wider society for those not getting any statutory support or who face having it removed under the things like the Work Capability Assessment programme – a contradiction in terms if ever there was one – is not only unchristian, but shameful. For a country which is supposedly the seventh richest in the world to countenance a situation where people are having to be referred to foodbanks just to provide the basics, is a humiliating indictment to the depths we have sunk to as a society.
In our churches, our places of work and in our community groups we support all manner of worthy causes and we buy Fairtrade products where we can, and we all tend to come away with a nice fuzzy glow that says we’ve done our bit to further humanity’s cause. Yet for most of us this still amounts to sitting on the sidelines while we get on with life and leave others to get their hands dirty caring and supporting those left at the sharp end. So what will I be doing during this Lenten season to support End Hunger Fast?
Well after some protracted negotiation with the Diabetic Care Nurse at my GP’s practice – the stubborn Irish heritage in me refused to back down entirely – I shall two days a week during lent refrain from eating a midday meal. I originally wanted to do this for the whole of lent, but as a diabetic I have to be careful not to unduly risk my health and even I can see the wisdom of accepting such medical advice, albeit reluctantly. What do I hope to achieve by doing this? I hope that by this small gesture I can show a degree of solidarity with those for whom skipping meals is not an option but for them a daily reality; and while I have no firm intelligence, there are I’m sure, people living with similar medical conditions to myself who find themselves in this situation, with the inherent long-term health implications they may suffer and the likely increased cost of medical intervention.
I have also volunteered at The Hunger Hut in Cathedral Square, Birmingham tomorrow (13th) to help raise awareness of the plight of hungry people here in the UK, exacerbated as it is, by the actions of an uncaring Government wedded to its ideology of austerity.
I will be there between 1000-1400 with the obligatory bottle of lucozade just in case the old blood sugar decides to go south due to not eating.
Why not join us?