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Twenty-seven Anglican bishops, a Cardinal, an assortment of non-conformists and Quakers may have a ring of Edward Lear, but this coalition represents a growing momentum of faith-based anger and condemnation of the government's 'reform' of social security (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20200)
As evidence of the sanctioning of vulnerable people's benefits mounts and the growing level of food bank use becomes widespread knowledge, the government is beginning to recognise the scale of concern. David Cameron's response last week had a whiff of panic about it despite his predictably patronising and wholly insincere prefix of “with respect...” (After all, a Cardinal is rather harder to sweep aside than are the usual suspects of the liberal-left.)
But maybe the most worrying aspect of the Prime Minister's defence was his claim that welfare 'reform' is “giving people hope”. This cynical inversion of truth and its dissociation from reality was presented by David Cameron as a "moral mission". In reality, it is a chilling echo of the Ministry of Truth slogan from 1984: “War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.”
There is no hope in the constant fear expressed by Job Seeker Allowance recipients that they are “treading on eggshells” as benefits are stopped for mistakes in form filling, for being a few minutes late (or in one reported case, early) for an appointment or for misunderstanding the instructions given by Job Centre staff. There is nothing hopeful to be found in applying for hundreds of vacancies and not receiving one reply. How might the Prime Minister explain the Terence Higgins Trust finding of a 63 per cent increase among HIV sufferers requiring emergency help due to benefit sanctions as being evidence of hope bestowed?
When ideology becomes as blind as this, we are all shamed. Destitution is not an acceptable condition of any government's survival. Our politicians are lying to us – maybe because they are deceiving themselves, maybe because they really don't care about the suffering of people whose lives are so far removed from their own.
Either way, the time for silence or indifference is over. We must speak out for those who are in despair because the bedroom tax means they cannot eat; for those who are left with nothing because they failed to make a phone call to the Job Centre at the appointed time; for those whose homes are cold because they applied for three jobs in one week instead of four.
Yesterday (22 February) I took part in a day organised by Quaker Peace and Social Witness on the current economic situation and our response to it. At the end of the day we were divided into groups and asked to draft a statement 'from Quakers, for Quakers' as an expression of that response, This is what the group I was in produced. It does, perhaps, mutatis mutandis, offer a challenge to all people of good faith.
- there is that of God in every person
- we are called to live out the truth of our Testimonies (peace, truth, equality and simplicity) amid the difficulties and injustices of our own time
- we have a responsibility to learn more of the lives of others
- we have a responsibility to inform and educate ourselves as fully as possible about the economic and social crisis in which we are living
'What canst thou say?'
And what are we going to do?
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet