Invulnerable people

By Symon Hill
March 12, 2012

Regular readers of my blog (a small but much appreciated group!) may wonder if I've got a bit obsessed with the Occupy eviction and my forced removal from the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. Looking back now, I realise that my last five blog entries have been about it.

A few people who know me personally have also hinted that I might be getting a bit carried away with the subject. My focus is perhaps unsurprising given the shock of being removed by police while praying on the steps of a church. However, I wouldn't want anyone to think that it's the only thing I've been thinking about. As well as being more than usually occupied with some personal and family issues, I've been writing some Bible reading notes on the theme of peace and continuing with my part-time role at at The Friend magazine.

Nonetheless, I've been hampered over recent weeks by own mental health problems. I've written before on this site about my problems with anxiety, panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (see They are less severe than they were some years ago, but they still bother me, and sometimes they become quite bad again. This has been the case over the last month or so.

The experience has led me to reflect on the phrase "vulnerable people", which I keep hearing. It was heard in the court case over the eviction of Occupy London Stock Exchange, when the City of London Corporation said that the camp attracted "vulnerable people". (Is that a bad thing? You could say the same about churches.) Critics of the government's assault on the welfare state warn that they will harm "vulnerable people".

I share their criticisms, but find this term somewhat worrying. Firstly, because it can imply that disabled people are inherently vulnerable as individuals, rather than made vulnerable by society. But my biggest objection to the term is that it implies that the majority of people are invulnerable.

I have yet to meet any invulnerable people. We are all vulnerable to a greater or lesser extent. Different people are vulnerable in different ways. This is the condition of humanity. It is more particularly the condition of humanity in an unjust world beset by the sins of violence and inequality. A society that values money and markets over people and planet will naturally make more of us more vulnerable in more ways.

Social justice is not about 'vulnerable people' being 'looked after' by those who are supposedly not vulnerable. Nor is it about escaping vulnerability. It is about building personal, social, political and economic relationships rooted in love and justice. We are able to do this only if we recognise our vulnerability and our mutual needs. To use the words of a recent statement by Quakers involved in the Occupy movement, we are all "broken people in a broken world". There can be no healing if we do not recognise this.


(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion. For links to more of his writing, please visit

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