A post from interim CEO at Livability, Dave Webber. Follow him on twitter @davelivability
As the Government’s scythe sinks ever deeper into public service funding it continues to reap its intended saving; however, it also causes substantial unintended damage in the secondary impacts on truly vulnerable people.
This may sound like a rant based on Party Politics, but it is not. In fact, I am tired of party politics but I remain passionate about social responsibility and natural justice.
Every day I pray that we will be delivered from the venom pedaled by the media which portrays all of those in need as “lazy Scroungers”. It is dogma and bigotry of the worst kind. Unfortunately it causes vote hungry politicians to “scratch where the public appear to be itching” in a search for public affirmation. Government by Tabloid Headline? Heaven protect us!
As Christians we are bound to challenge such generalisations about those who are forced to live in the margins. We must, of course, accept there is a small percentage who do try to play and abuse the system, but they are the minority.
I am seriously worried that disadvantaged and disabled people will suffer increasing stigma and social isolation and fade into the grey margins of society, even within their own communities. This can only increase risk and diminish wellbeing, and unless WE do something about it, will represent a complete ethical failure in our social system.
As a CEO responsible for a substantial corporate budget, I fully understand the need for good fiscal decisions and I realize that they are often difficult and usually unpopular, especially in such tough times. However, such decisions by public bodies, tough or not, MUST stand up to logical and ethical scrutiny.
Unfortunately that is where I am struggling. I see such contradictions: e.g.
- Substantial changes to welfare benefits for disabled and disadvantaged people AND at the same time cuts in benefits advisors in CAB and other agencies. How can that make sense? How can that be “ensuring the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in our society” ?
- Atos finding tens of thousands of people “fit for work” only for that decision to be overturned on appeal. Meanwhile Atos have made a substantial corporate profit!
- Getting information from the DWP or ringing with benefit queries gets more and more difficult. Impossible to get continuity on your case enquiry from staff who refuse to give names. Repeated phone calls with no results.
But still I am not prepared to just default to a conspiracy theory (i.e. they are making it more difficult to claim benefits due or deliberate slowing of the system to reduce cash flow). Even in the face of these allegations, I am more inclined to subscribe to chaos rather than conspiracy theory. However attitudes can mean that no one is passionate to bring order to chaos. Allowing the chaos to continue could imply a basic lack of human respect for the recipients of service or benefits. Maybe staff at the benefits agency read and believe the tabloids too?
It could also be due to the indecent speed with which these reforms are being bounced through parliamentary process without proper consultation or consideration of the less obvious impact.
The reasons are many and varied and the solutions are very complex. Change will be like turning an oil tanker; very slow and gradual.
In the meantime, the people at the end of the process are “in drift”, frightened insecure and frustrated. I believe that we have a clear Christian responsibility to work to prevent social isolation within our own communities. Churches of all denominations should be active in monitoring their community for those who are becoming socially isolated or slipping further and further out of community view. Livability’s Community Mission team; @liveitlocally, are working hard with churches to help them develop the skills and networks for the task, especially with the very tough question about where to start. As a church we have a responsibility toward the whole community not just the Christian community.
This could be an exciting challenge for churches to work together in their locality, in partnership with other agencies and charities. The church could be the catalyst to bring the expert agencies together.
This is not just a challenge but also a real opportunity for the church to be seen to be more actively engaged with their own communities and with each other. Also a chance to readjust our emotional and physical energy and focus more of it outside, rather than invest it in internal arguments and disagreements. Maybe we can work out some of our differences of opinion by rolling our sleeves up and working side by side to respond to a social problem with people in real need.