A UK government review of local authority duties has raised further fears about the future of social services, says Savi Hensman/ Yet, against a background of harsh spending cuts, this is also an opportunity for people and civil society organisations - including churches and faith bodies - to declare whether they believe that children and adults should be able to get the support they need.
Baptism is much more than a comforting ritual, says Savi Hensman. It is to be marked with the sign of a condemned criminal, to refuse imprisoning and narrow identities, to face up to mortality, and to be immersed in a new world where justice and peace reign.
Overall, established Church of England leaders – in contrast to those of some other churches – have been only mildly critical of a government introducing some of the harshest economic and social policies in recent decades, says Savi Hensman. Fidelity to the radical message of the Gospel, and to the vocation of the Christian community, requires more.
Drastic cuts imposed by the UK government will result in a sharp rise in child poverty, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates, but children’s services run by local authorities are already severely overstretched in many areas. The situation is likely to become much worse says Savi Hensman.
It is all too easy for the state to become an idol, yet duty to humanity can sometimes outweigh obedience to the authorities, says Savi Hensman. The conscience case of atheist Michael Lyons is one that should cause Christians, among others, to think.
In November 2010, the Church of England moved a step further to accepting an Anglican Covenant which could be used to discipline member churches – though those it was meant to placate firmly rejected it. Savi Hensman suggests that in its present form the Covenant is set to cause more problems than it solves.
Many of the government’s cuts will intensify divisions in society, excluding some people from opportunities that others enjoy and making it less likely that people from different backgrounds will mix, says Savi Hensman. A different way forward is needed.
It is grimly ironic, says Savi Hensman, that on Armistice Day UK news headlines included the announcement of a new benefits system which punishes the ‘workshy’ and a report showing inadequate care for many elderly NHS patients undergoing surgery.
Contrary to the impression given by the Anglican Covenant, faithfulness to Christ crucified means being willing, if necessary, to refuse to conform, and instead to take a stand alongside One who was “numbered with the transgressors”, says Savi Hensman. Communion is misconstrued when it is translated as imposed institutional conformity.
The benefit system is notoriously complicated, leaving both claimants and officials struggling, says Savi Hensman. Errors are far higher in value than estimated fraud. This in turn is far less than the estimated £16 billion of unclaimed benefit every year. Yet the UK government is seeking to further punish the poor.