Sharing our shirts - when should we help the poor?

By Virginia Moffatt
May 11, 2015

On Friday, when David Cameron stood outside Downing Street to address the nation, he struck a less strident note then he has for some time. He talked about giving the poorest a chance for 'training, a job, and hope for the future'. He seemed in his speech to be reclaiming the mantle of the compassionate Conservative he appeared to be back in 2009/10. I wish I could believe him.

If David Cameron was serious about giving people hope for the future, he should immediately review the welfare changes he implemented in his last government. He should suspend sanctions, the work capability assessment, the bedroom tax, the benefits cap. Instead, he continues to focus on work as the only solution to poverty, an approach that has no room for the sick, disabled, single parents and others with caring responsibility. He has re-appointed Iain Duncan Smith to welfare, leaving him to oversee the already disastrous Universal Credit programme. And he has not abandoned the prospect of a further £12 billion welfare cuts, though he has not said where the axe will fall. All of which suggests we would be wise to take his words with a pinch of salt.

And of course, it is not just what the Prime Minister says that we must pay attention to. The papers who offer commentary also provide us with an indication of what is to come. So, I was disturbed to see this in Friday's Evening Standard: "And without economic growth, there is not the means to help the vulnerable. We can only share the proceeds of growth when we have it." In other words, the poor can only receive help when we have the money. A far cry from Luke, 3:11 "Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same."

On Saturday, my fourteen year old daughter asked me whether I knew that Clem Attlee's government inherited worse debt in 1945 then David Cameron's in 2010. Yet Attlee went on to found the welfare state, creating free health care, an ambitious housing programme, increased education and a welfare safety net for all. And the debt did not get any worse. She wanted to know why the Conservatives couldn't do the same now?

I did know about Attlee, and I've asked that question many times. Now I'll add another. If a fourteen year old can get this basic point, that helping the poorest is possible even in the direst of economic circumstances, why can't the Prime Minister?

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© Virginia Moffatt is chief operating officer of Ekklesia. Before working for Ekklesia, she spent 30 years working in services for people with learning disabilities, most recently for Oxfordshire County Council.

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