Monday, 8 July 2013

General Synod - Welfare Reform

General Synod debated Welfare Reform last night. The CofE has isused a detailed press release.

Welfare Reform and the Church – Synod invites Government to re-open Big Society talks
07 July 2013

General Synod has this evening approved a motion calling for a “renewed settlement between the state, the churches and civil society”, and for “close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable, and for support for those not in a position to support themselves”.

The motion was moved by Mission and Public Affairs Council chair Mr Philip Fletcher, who authored the report Welfare Reform and the Church (GS 1897).

In his speech, Mr Philip Fletcher said: “We don’t claim… that the whole responsibility for the welfare of our citizens should fall on the shoulders of the state - on the contrary, we would welcome a properly thought-through settlement between the state and the voluntary structures of society, including the Church, as a way of building up communities and promoting neighbourliness. As a Church, we not only seek those objectives all the time, we have responded practically to the hardships which the present austerity measures are imposing on people who have nowhere else to turn - effects which are likely to become more severe as those changes take full effect.”

Emphasising the Church’s involvement in social welfare provision for centuries, and the theological grounds for the Church’s support for a “welfare state”, Welfare Reform and the Church recognises that no structure for ensuring the welfare of all citizens is perfect and that reform is a continuing necessity. It notes that the balance between state and voluntary action has become distorted but comments that, contrary to the apparent direction of policy in the early days of the Coalition, “three years on we have seen very little of The Big Society in policy or practical terms”.

Unpacking the concepts of fairness, generosity and sustainability, the report also looks at public perceptions of welfare, pointing out that “the distinction between ‘strivers’ and ‘scroungers’ has entrenched harsh attitudes towards those whose benefits are being targeted for cuts”. It agrees that welfare dependency is a problem that “cannot be ignored” but argues that a “society which allows large numbers of its citizens to live in poverty is unlikely to be sustainable”.

The debate included contributions from the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (the audio is available here).

The motion, including amendments from the Bishop of St Albans, the Bishop of Burnley and Mr Gavin Oldham (Oxford), was clearly carried following a divison of Synod (331 for, 1 against, 7 abstentions) and reads:

‘That this Synod, recognising that in times of austerity hard choices must be made between competing priorities, and acknowledging that reform of welfare systems is essential:

- affirm the need for a renewed settlement between the state, the churches and civil society in pursuit of social solidarity and the common good;

- invite the MPA Council to consider how the Church of England can better contribute to this new settlement, making recommendations to the General Synod by July 2014;

- encourage Her Majesty’s Government to found such reform on the principle of a bias towards the poor;

- call on politicians and pay close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable, and call for support for those not in a position to support themselves and, in doing so, to consider whether the ring-fenced provision of universal benefits may be becoming the enemy of targeted benefits;

- decry the misleading characterisation of all welfare recipients as ‘scroungers’; and

- commend those across the churches who are working to support those most in need.’

There are several notes to the press release, and these are copied below the fold.

The Archbishop of York’s speech during the debate is online here.

Christian Today has reported the debate: Church condemns ‘scrounger’ rhetoric against poor.

Notes to the press release

1) The report Welfare Reform and the Church and its annexes are available here:
GS 1897
Annex 1
Annex 2
2) In March 2013, the Daily Telegraph carried a letter signed by 43 bishops drawing attention to the stresses and injustices brought about by the Government’s changes to the welfare system and calling for amendments to the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill then passing through Parliament.
3) Members of the Lords Spiritual have contributed strongly to the debates on welfare in the House of Lords.

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Comments

I am saddened that while there have been the (usual and predictable?) comments here concerning marriage and bishops, non-one has thought fit to say anything about welfare and austerity. Where I am in Newcastle upon Tyne this is a huge and growing issue which is involving churches at all levels of ministry and ecumenically too - far more than our internal arguments. This is in no way to suggest that other matters are unimportant; simply to ask whether even "thinking Anglicans" are really more interested in their own personal agendas.

Posted by: Canon Philip Cunningham on Tuesday, 9 July 2013 at 6:35am BST

I thought that this document, and previous comments from the ABC made it clear that the CoE was speaking up for the poor. And I was very glad to see it.

The "internal" arguments do relate to justice in the face of austerity. Poverty amongst single mothers, for example, is a big part of poverty. The church loses credibility when it discriminates so viciously.

Austerity puts pressure on vulnerable groups, such as immigrants and LGBT persons. If the church is persecuting LGBT persons, it can't really be of much help.

Justice has always been part of the poverty equation. Cultures with more gender equality are more prosperous. There's a reason that in the third world one of the most effective programs is micro loans to women.

What I'm sorry about is that on TA bloggers rarely put their "personal agendas" in a larger context. Traditionalists steadfastly refuse to reflect on the reality that their positions actually do harm in the larger world. Few liberals articulate that harm. Which is why I hammer it to the nth degree. In the 1st world, I've suffered much both as woman in a non traditional field for women, and as a gay person in the world. In my work in the Haiti, I see that injustice and suffering, exploded exponentially. And I can see that the patriarchal church contributes greatly to that suffering - a fact that has been echoed by women leaders in Africa (such as those speaking at a recent UN conference on women).

Poverty and justice are related. The idea that middle class women and gays should just suck it up, bear the burden of injustice, and get out to serve the poor at the soup kitchen is not a long term solution to the problems.

I agree that in a crisis, communities should come together to take care of the immediate need.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 9 July 2013 at 6:16pm BST

Good comment Fr Philip and couldn't agree more. This site offers food for thought on a range of issues but the below-the-line commentators only ever seem to think about two of them! And well done to ++Justin (hear today's Today) for keeping social security and hardship high in the news agenda

Posted by: ExRevd on Tuesday, 9 July 2013 at 7:00pm BST

We usually assume that when people do not comment on TA it's not because they don't care about the topic but because it is not controversial.

I would have been horrified it something as obviously positive as this had generated a huge discussion.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 9 July 2013 at 9:20pm BST

There's still room for conversation, Erika. In the social justice circles, there's been a lot of talk about "toxic charity." Some things are less helpful, like in Haiti when church groups travel there to build a home rather than hire locals.

There's also the issue of charity vs. advocacy. The quote by a Latin American RC bishop always comes up "when I feed the hungry, they call me a saint, when I ask why they're hungry, they call me a socialist."

Then there's sustainability. I don't know about the UK, but in American inner cities, it can be difficult for the poor to access healthy food. So our local food bank is teaching people how to grow their own food, in whatever space they have (I know this is very common in the UK).

There's much that could be discussed about effective social action. I'm not very sympathetic to the view that justice for women and LGBT persons is irrelevant when clearly MANY women and LGBT persons suffer - are Father Philip and ExRevd saying that our suffering is irrelevant? It looks like it. Depression and exposure to hate and violence are not important, only feeding the poor.

I am someone who actually does charitable volunteer work. Justice and poverty are related, church credibility matters, and my suffering is not irrelevant.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 at 4:41am BST

Cynthia,
yes, and when and if we discuss detailed policies, I'm sure there will be many comments here.
But the motion approved was “renewed settlement between the state, the churches and civil society”, and for “close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable, and for support for those not in a position to support themselves”.

And that, as it stands, is wholly uncontroversial, at least for me, and so I don't comment.

I'm reminded of the start of the IF campaign that was also posted on TA. The thread generated very few comments, if any.
But I have since discovered that many of the regular UK based contributors here have joined that campaign.
It is wrong to equate no comments on here with not caring.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 at 10:05am BST

Erika,
Thank you for your post here. I most certainly don't equate no comments with not caring. I was just challenging Fa. Philip and ExRevd on the idea that justice and addressing poverty are unrelated. It's a naive theory at best.

I was very glad about the motion, as well as the ABC's words in his speech to the General Synod.

In TEC, we have a whole policy network and we come up with great social justice policy. But we aren't the Established Church. I hope that CoE can have a positive impact in social justice. Again, however, CoE's moral position is compromised by it's discriminatory positions. Thus, CoE would have greater standing and impact on behalf of the poor if it took the high road on WB's and LGBT persons.

No matter how you slice it and dice it, the highest levels of power or at the local soup kitchen, the church's credibility and moral positioning matters.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 at 6:10pm BST

Cynthia,
I agree with you, justice and poverty are linked. And not only because injustice is one of the direct causes of poverty but also because injustice stops organisations from being taken seriously.

There are those who want us to stop arguing about women and gays all the time and concentrate "on what really matters".
But until we have justice and equality for all at all levels we have very little moral credibility in the outside world.
For the sake of "what really matters" we absolutely must sort our own inequality issues out urgently and re-establish our credibility as a moral force in society.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 at 9:05pm BST

At the risk of incurring more wrath I would remind everyone that my first post stated : "This is in no way to suggest that other matters are unimportant". Dare I in my own defence make the point that here in my parish and in my Diocese I have spoken out and spoken up both for LGBT issues and for women in the episcopate? My concern was and still is that these issues appear so to be dominating the concerns of "Thinking Anglicans" that all else appears to be marginalised. Of course justice issues are related - I never suggested otherwise: exactly my point. I fear it will be a long time before I dare raise my head above the Thinking Anglican parapet again - not so much "thinking" as single issues.

Posted by: Fr. Philip Cunningham on Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 1:54pm BST

"Hard choices must be made between competing priorities"- this is of course true, but it's salutary to note the government's priorities- cutting the top tax tate for the rich, who still pay a significantly lower proportion of their income in tax than do the poor.

Posted by: Helen on Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 2:16pm BST

Fr. Cunningham,
this isn't a very long comment thread and I assume you have read all the responses.

What do you make of my first 2 comments here after your criticism that people on TA don't generally respond to posts that are not contentious?
And to my reference to the lack of posts after the announcement of the IF campaign which in no way reflects people's personal response to it?

You might not agree, but I did actually think about how to respond constructively.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 4:49pm BST

I think Fr Cunningham has it about right. The TA comment box is largely a 2 issue concern. GS voted this week to abolish a diocese against its will, and hardly a flicker of interest amongst TA commentators.

Posted by: ian on Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 6:41pm BST

Ian - would you care to oblige Fr Cunningham and contribute more to the discussion about the welfare reform?
Maybe he will engage with your contribution.

Or, come to that, to the Bradford, Ripon and Leeds post that has one comment, which is not from you?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 8:39pm BST

Fair point Erika, but then I am only an occasional visitor to TA.

BTW have you abolished Wakefield already?

Posted by: Ian on Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 9:53pm BST

Ian,
you clearly know more about those reorganisation plans than I do - you should be the one to kick off a comment thread!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 10:12pm BST

I've very sorry, Fa. Philip that I misunderstood your post. I did take it in a way that indicated that my suffering as a woman and gay person was less important than those living in poverty. You didn't mean that and I apologize.

In my volunteer work I see a constant stream of injustices that inflict suffering. I do wish we could all work this out for the benefit of everyone.

As for TA, I think people get really wrapped up in the legalities and WB's and marriage equality are the legal fodder on the table right now. And the Americans are holding our collective breath to see if Justin is going to bully our church a la Rowan...

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 12 July 2013 at 12:12am BST
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