One of the Church of Scotland’s most senior ministers has invited the Chancellor to come north of the Border on a “fact-finding mission” about welfare reform.
The Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, believes the recent benefit proposals show how out of touch the government is with deprived communities.
In a letter to the Chancellor, Galloway and the Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, Secretary of the Poverty Truth Commission, argue that the government’s plans would be better informed if Mr Osborne and his team consulted with some of Scotland’s poorest people.
Mr Galloway said: “Sometimes it is hard to understand something that you have never experienced yourself. This is why we have invited the Chancellor to hear first hand the stories of struggle and survival in poverty."
“Who knows, some really creative and dignity enhancing back-to-work schemes might be the outcome of such an encounter.”
Chancellor George Osborne is a multi-millionaire, holds a minor aristocratic title and attended Eton and Oxbridge.
There are reckoned to be twenty millionaires in the current UK government cabinet, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Mr Galloway continued: “The proposals from the UK Government seem to me to be based on the assumption that poor people do not have a culture of work and self development.
“This is rather puzzling, because many unemployed people held jobs at some point in their lives. It would be useful to find out why they can no longer work.”
The Church and Society Council convener also expressed his deep concern at the government’s assumption that all benefit holders are “scroungers”.
Mr Galloway said: “This image is unfortunate as well as untrue since benefit fraud is in fact at its lowest for 10 years.
“It damages the reputation and good name of thousands of people who have the misfortune of being unemployed and places their future employability at risk since no-one wants to employ a 'fraudster'.
“Experience gathered through long-term involvement working in deprived areas in Scotland, by faith-based organisations like Faith in Community Scotland or the Poverty Truth Commission, shows that most unemployed people that can work, do so.
“This experience does not tally with the image of fraud, job-aversion, and job-shyness presented by those in government arguing for punitive approaches and draconian cuts to the welfare system. “
“I am certain that the UK would better off if welfare reform proposals could have the benefit of stakeholder consultations and the Church of Scotland can contribute towards a national dialogue of major stakeholders in the welfare reform debate.”
The Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, Secretary of the Poverty Truth Commission, added: ”Our experience as a commission is that many people struggling against poverty are already making massive contributions to society. The government needs to listen rather than assume what is best for them.”
Two days ago, a range of clergy, theologians and Christian community activists launched a network and statement under the title Common Wealth (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13571), urging the churches to resist the government's cuts agenda and the economic and social order it embeds.