Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Archbishop The Cardinal The Tablet and the Poor

As a practising although hugely imperfect, catholic  some respectful  comment on recent observations about protecting the poor in UK society  made by all of the above, seem worthwhile even if  my comments are flawed.

The Tablet this week criticises the government's decision to cap some welfare benefits although currently even the Labour opposition party's position on  this  is according to the BBC:

Labour would back the Welfare Bill, the proposed household benefit cap and restricting Child Tax Credit to two children, from 2017.

The   Christian churches and the Tablet have expressed views that in essence are  easy to accept  namely that the poor should not suffer unduly. What they no not comment upon however is the much more difficult question of how to ensure that the nation's financial assets which are not unlimited, are spent fairly or indeed where the money should come from to ensure that the poorest in society do not suffer unfairly.

Currently the debts of the UK economy are huge. Proportionately the UK's debts are not as onerous of those of Greece but they are by all accounts very large and despite 5 years of coalition government preceded by many years of Labour Government the national debts are  still growing larger.

Like Greece today the UK was subjected to the rigours of the IMF  in as I recollect Labour prime ministers Harold Wilson and James Callaghan's time about which the National Archives' headline reads:

"In 1976 Britain faced financial crisis. The Labour government was forced to apply to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan of nearly $4 billion. IMF negotiators insisted on deep cuts in public expenditure, greatly affecting economic and social policy."
 UK International Debt Crisis


"As pressure on the pound continued, the government approached the IMF for a loan of $3.9 billion in September 1976. This was the largest amount ever requested of the Fund, which needed to seek additional funds from the US and Germany. The IMF negotiators demanded heavy cuts in public expenditure and the budget deficit as a precondition for the loan. Healey's proposals for a cut of around 20 per cent in the budget deficit were hotly debated in Cabinet, particularly by Anthony Crosland and Michael Foot. Eventually they acceded, as it seemed likely that the refusal of the loan would be followed by a disastrous run on the pound. Healey announced the forthcoming reductions in public expenditure to the House of Commons on 15 December 1976."

 Unfortunately  leading  UK Christian commentators today do not appear to regard the country's recent history of debt as teaching us very much. For example  I well recall in the 1970s having to secure the bank's permission which was officially recorded on my passport at that time, to take £10 out of the country for an HCPT pilgrimage. The devaluation of the £ and the then  Prime Minister's rather mis-leading statement to the effect that the value of the pound in one's pocket had not altered are possibly only recalled by those directly affected at the time. The income tax rates on the highest earners soared to 80% or even 90% yet  that really made little difference to ordinary people in the UK  let alone the very poor.

Again today the UK is borrowing far more than it earns to pay for running the country including  assisting the poor.  Where this borrowed money comes from is surely a question to consider?

 The Methodist Church  has I understand a list of ethical investments which are authorised for for example investment by its pension funds for ministers who retire.  Maintaining a similar policy for borrowing money is I assume far more difficult. Thus for example are any of the billions of pounds the UK government has already borrowed, coming from nations with huge oil wealth but whose methods of governing their own people are open to question? Or are companies which are immensely wealthy but keeping their funds offshore to avoid paying tax some of which would assist the poor, even as regards the USA,  the originators of money being advanced to the UK to borrow? 

Do the Christian churches consider that funding the poor of the UK  is the only relevant question rather than how that might be done,  or the effect on the poor people in the nations being borrowed from or how the huge sums borrowed may ever be repaid by the UK  without turning the whole nation into paupers such as has been risked by the Greek governments over the past decade or two?

Looking at Christian teachings for answers seems helpful but the answers  with due respect to them  seem  rather different from the implications of some of  observations  made by todays Christian leaders. 

The feeding of the 5,000 for example did not take place by the rich being persuaded to give food to the hungry although I am sure that such giving would be beneficial for all concerned. The parable of the talents  suggests that one should work hard with what one has rather than simply do nothing or bury it. In fact borrowing money even for apparently kind purposes, is hardly mentioned at all - at least so far as I can see but I would be happy to be corrected on this.

The focus  of  media comment  today as regards the poor appears to be about fault by government and more that could or should  be done by government  nationally.

 Perhaps a radical change of approach is required. Marriage break down is a source of financial hardship to many children and  often their mothers. This needs investigation.  Should preparation for marriage be re structured? 

We have had comprehensive education in England for decades now but is it really a success? Yes the secondary school aspect it replaced was dreadful but maybe the Free School and Academy concepts initiated by the former Labour government and taken forward under the coalition and Tories is a beneficial development.   

The media today report concerns that many middle class children are being supported by their families to do well. The reports could be interpreted as implying that this is an unfairness that the state should tackle. Again that might be correct but  apart from outlawing assistance being given to one's own children what are the reporters really  suggesting be  done not least by the parents of the affected children? 

Yes when the police fail as they did recently with children who had been repeatedly molested by gangs of men, they should be criticised but what about inquiries into the children's families? Of course if the parents were disabled emotionally or in some other way then such inquiries should be private  but for lessons to be learned by society as a whole, more information even anonymised, about the families' backgrounds could be beneficial, rather than simply statements about failures by the police or local authorities  as serious though such are, there must  be more to the tragic stories than  the failings of  those public bodies.

My own parents were from cockney East London; they worked hard to bring themselves and their children out of poverty. Self help is perhaps worth making fashionable again. Of course for the disabled, ill  elderly bereaved and refugees, society as a whole must assist but the emphasis on government money for every difficulty needs reviewing especially as the government money is borrowed money the origins of which are questionable..

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