A Justice Forum on welfare and benefit reform, the first of a series organised by the Anglican Diocese of Oxford, took place today (23 May 2013) at the Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford.
Around 40 participants from Oxford and beyond heard presentations from five speakers on different aspects of the UK government's policy.
Bethany Eckley of the Church Urban Fund gave an overview of the current and planned reforms. Rachel Lampard, leader of the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, in partnership with the Church of Scotland, presented the JPIT's recent report The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty.
A consideration of the impact of the reforms on people with mental health issues was given by Benedict Leigh from Restore, an Oxfordshire charity which provides a range of mental health support services including coaching, recovery groups, sport and activity groups and training.
The impact of the reforms on people with learning disabilities was explored by Tatu Delaney, Campaigns Officer at Mencap, while Jill Segger, Associate Director of Ekklesia, spoke on the faith response and the way language is being used, often negatively, to influence perceptions of benefit recipients.
Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser to Oxford Diocese, said: “As Christians we are called to ‘Respond to human need by loving service’ and to ‘Seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation’. (from the Five Marks of Mission). We therefore have reason to feel anxious about many developments in contemporary social policy.
“The Diocese of Oxford Department of Mission (Mission in the World Group) will therefore be hosting a series of Justice Forums aiming to do the following:
- Explore the impact of particular social changes
provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences: what is the impact of change, and upon whom?
- Ask how churches are responding, both practically (meeting needs in our communities); and in the realm of ideas (eg, what kinds of discourse and language can we challenge and why? what is our alternative vision for human flourishing?)
- Share insights about new and different kinds of responses that we can develop, and support one another to pursue them
- Improve our capacity and ability to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalised and vulnerable in our current social and economic climate.”