Read Bishop Paul's contribution to "Universal Credit Unintended Consequences"
I believe in human flourishing. I believe all people - whoever they are, whatever their background - should be able to flourish. This has clear social consequences. Those from more privileged backgrounds flourish with relative ease. They know how to use their greater opportunities. Those without privilege struggle. Their lives are too easily broken, messy, complicated.
I grew up understanding that a decent, functioning caring state would enable all to flourish. As we celebrate 70 years of the NHS, established to care for all, I am reminded that the welfare system was founded in the same spirit. To help people fare well. Growing up, that seemed to me a proper, decent way to organise society. I feel the same now.
I get angry and frustrated with the way the system has changed. Human beings are not flourishing. People are not faring well. I become angry when I read that 70,000 claimants need to claim the Budgeting Allowance emergency loan. I become angry when I hear of parents going without so their children can eat. I am angry when I see so many FoodBanks putting a sticking plaster on a failing system. I disagree with complacent politics that pats foodbanks on the head for being an expression of charity. Instead I am angry that basic needs are not met, with individuals denied any opportunity to build their lives, grow and flourish.
Language is important in this.
Over time we moved from using the holistic word “welfare” to demeaning, transactional terms like “benefit” and “credit”. Welfare has been described as social effort to promote basic physical and mental wellbeing and health, happiness and fortunes of people. It is a people-centred concept. It puts wellbeing first. It speaks of compassion and justice.
Credit and benefit are accountancy terms. They speak of profit and loss. They enable us to start to ignore the human and focus exclusively on cost. They don’t speak of value and fail to enable flourishing.
Worryingly they enable the conversation to move to less human ideas such as a distinction between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. If your welfare payment, the money you are given to have a basic existence is seen as a benefit you are cast in the role of one who takes. You’re taking from society, you’re impoverishing “deserving” people, you’re “scrounging” off the rest of us. Daily we read this narrative in some newspapers. The consequence is society is encouraged to pay less, to ignore, marginalise and erase human beings from the sphere of compassion.
As a Christian I have a story that sees this as wrong and as deeply mistaken. Jesus Christ came among us not in a palace, but as a child in a manger. Everything about my faith compels me to support the poorest and most vulnerable in society. I stand in the footsteps of great bishops – Bishop Sheppard, Bishop Jones - who called for justice for the poor taking action to help the vulnerable flourish.
We have a vision in our diocese, asking God for a bigger church that makes a bigger difference in society. That difference is seeing more justice in the world. The justice Jesus wants to see. The justice that, fundamentally, our society still wants to see.
That desire for justice is not restricted to Christians. We see all people coming together to state: enough is enough! The system is broken. It plunges people into more debt rather than offering a decent standard of living. It drives people to desperation rather than allowing their flourishing.
People broke this system, and people can fix it and it must be fixed. It is our moral duty, and for people in the Judaeo-Christian tradition it is the mandate of our faith. The Bible says, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. Let that stream of love and flourishing flow. Here. Now.
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Universal Credit Unintended Consequences