I must confess I didn’t know what to say, when I saw on twitter on Wednesday morning the article on the front of the Daily Mail stating that the welfare state was to blame for the deaths of 6 children in a fire started by their father.
In the days following I have watched as George Osborne has apparently agreed (to a degree) that the welfare state funds a ‘lifestyle’ that will lead to the killing of ones children. David Cameron has since defended this statement.
I know, that many will say that they did not mean it as it has been taken, however, the use of such a tragedy for political gain is both irresponsible and unfair to the vast numbers of people on benefits who do not receive benefits to fund a ‘lifestyle’ and who are exceptionally unlikely to burn their children to death.
Once again, we find that politicians and the media are at the forefront of the attacks on the most vulnerable in our nation.
What Philpott and his accomplices did was devastating, it is an horrific crime committed by a man, not a welfare claimant, just a man. A few years ago a man shot his wife and daughter, before burning down his house and killing himself, this man was a millionaire – should we therefore assume that all millionaires, due to their lifestyle, are at risk of doing the same? There are many stories of this kind, devastating incidents of cruelty and violence, which were neither necessary nor acceptable in the eyes of society. The thing is, when one of these incidents happens within a family that is on benefits suddenly it becomes about the benefits not the individuals.
It is true, there are individuals who will milk the benefits system, it is also true that the system needs reform. However, the cuts coming into place are actually going to cost many of the poorest in our society hundreds of pounds a year. In targeting the few that do cause problems, the many that do not, who are innocent of abusing the system, suffer, becoming known as skivers.
We need leaders who will be honest about the financial need but will listen to the voices of those who are struggling. Iain Duncan Smith has come under fire for stating that he could live off £53 a week and then saying he won’t.
It seems that over the last week our leaders have been quick to speak and cast judgements on those who are living in poverty in the country, whether this was deliberate or not, more caution and care needs to go into how they approach such a subject. It is very easy to cast a judgement from a distance, we all do it. The question is, how do we respond when called up on it?
This leads into the question of how to ensure that the church is not guilty of the same. How can the church effectively counter this attack on those in poverty? Why should we do so?
I encountered this website which is called ‘Tell My Story’, it is a place that individuals can share their experiences of the cuts. It is an opportunity for those who often struggle to be heard to get their story out there. This is one example of trying to make a difference. We can campaign, and state that ‘Jesus told us to love the poor’ but our words must be converted into action.
If we state that Iain Duncan Smith should be living on £53 a week to show how hard it is, then perhaps we should do the same. Let us learn what it is to be in that position, so that we, who so often have an opportunity to shout, are able to do so with personal experience and understanding.
If we say that Osborne and the Daily Mail are wrong to link benefits to child killing, let us make sure that when we speak about others (for many of us these sweeping statements can often be targeted at bankers, politicians etc) we make sure that we are not condemning a whole group on the back of what a few have done.
We as church, must make noise in favour of those who can’t, but we must also act in such a way that we cannot get caught in the position Iain Duncan Smith did this week. Where our words slip out and we find that we are not able to follow through. This is the worst thing the church could do.