Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Cuts affect poorest and most vulnerable - Bishop of Bath & Wells

Government must recognise impact of cuts on the most vulnerable (Parish Magazine Article March 2011)

As the Bishop of Taunton and I are out and about in the communities that we serve as the Diocese, what has affected us most on recent visits is the widespread concern over government cuts.

Many people fear for their jobs. Farmers are concerned about issues of food security, human and animal welfare. On a visit to Locking Deanery last month, a college principal spoke about the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance. 82% of his students can only afford to study because of the grant. Students themselves spoke of anxieties over debt and no longer being able to contemplate university or college unless they lived at home.

The Citizens Advice Bureau is worried about funding cuts, as is a lawyer who is concerned about the substantial removal of Legal Aid and cuts to funding for victims of domestic violence.  The threatened closure of libraries and the decision to stop funding to much local authority youth work are also matters of deep concern.  The cutting of rural bus services, coupled with the increase in fuel prices and the overall cost of travel, will further isolate those in rural communities.

The impact of many of the proposed cuts is felt most immediately by the poorest and most vulnerable.  The call for a Big Society will be hollow if national and local governments do not recognise this.
If government programmes require sacrifices of people, the people need to trust that the result will be a better future for everyone. If that trust is absent then people will see such cuts as unfair and punitive.  A Big Society calls for a commitment to the common good by government and people alike.

The society of God’s Kingdom calls for priority to be given to the poor, lonely, isolated and vulnerable. In society we do together what we cannot do alone. Nurturing and encouraging volunteering in the community is good. But it is not something that can be done without resources, anymore than the Hebrews could make bricks without straw.

Can we as church communities look at the impact of the cuts upon our communities and seek out ways of not only encouraging, supporting and helping those affected, but, where there is real suffering, hardship or deprivation, drawing this to the attention of national and local government?

Jesus observed in Matthew 25 that those who served the needs of the vulnerable served him. Such a possibility should both inspire and encourage us to love of neighbour and love of Christ.

+Peter Bath and Wells.

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