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|Religion and Politics|
|Organised religion is always ambiguous. It can be both an instrument for good or for great evil. When I consider the history of organised religions the world over and look at the present state of our world and the countless acts of violence committed.
|Inequality: it’s not the politics of envy|
|It’s hard to hold onto intuitions that equality and fairness are important when others – including most of the government – seem to have abandoned theirs. A belief in greater equality has always been close to the core of socialism.
by Fran Beckett
I’ve seen it happen too many times. Start quoting statistics and a glazed look comes into people’s eyes, and before you know it you’ve lost them. We’re suspicious, and sometimes rightly so, that anything can be proved with statistics. However, statistics can tell us some very important things about our world, including the world right on our doorstep.
Let’s focus on women for instance. The PSE Survey 2005 estimates that in this country nearly half of all young mothers (aged 16-24 years) with dependent children live in poverty. A British Cohort Study has found that almost one third (29%) of young women who are poor at the ages of 10 and 16 years are still poor at the age of 30. The 2007 Gender Equality Index provided by the Equal Opportunities Commission shows that women in part-time work earn 38% less than the hourly rate of men in full-time work. And unsurprisingly in light of the above, the income of a female pensioner is 40% below that of a male pensioner.
These figures are based on the Government’s own poverty measure of an income more than 60% below the median. More broadly across UK society, the most recent statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions (Household Income Survey 2006) put 12.8 million people, 1 in 5 or 22% of the population, as living in poverty. And despite significant attempts by the current Government to tackle child poverty it looks unlikely they will reach their target. All of this is within a context of an escalating economic downturn and growing gap between rich and poor.
Reading the figures above, there’s something fundamentally unfair about these inequalities. This extends to other groups too – people with disabilities or mental health issues, elderly people, and those from ethnic minority backgrounds to mention just a few. Hidden in outwardly idyllic rural communities or starkly present in 1960’s urban housing estates the poverty right on our doorstep is a reality. It may not be the absolute poverty found in the two thirds world, although destitute asylum seekers come close, but it is bad enough to substantially damage people’s health, mental wellbeing, and life expectancy.
Yet not enough of us get angry about this! True, there has been a recent flurry of public opinion around the Government’s 10 pence tax change. However, much of this seems to have been about perception of the Government as being mean spirited rather than major concern about the issue of people struggling on low incomes. We mostly accept there is desperate poverty in other countries and campaigns like ‘Make Poverty History’ have done much to build awareness. But turn the lens on the UK and we are at least ten years behind in public awareness of poverty here.
A recent consultation by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) on ‘modern day social evils’ found a broad discontent with income inequality but this was more focused on curbing high incomes than tackling low incomes. Earlier research by JRF found that poverty as a concept is unpopular. Over a third of the public consulted see poverty as inevitable with there being little that can be done, reinforced by the view of over a third more who believe that people have only themselves to blame if they are poor. JRF came to the sobering conclusion from their findings that “the public is a long way from supporting an anti-UK poverty agenda. They are not aware of the problem and do not believe that it is a legitimate issue.”
Yet bring people into direct contact with those living in poverty and attitudes change. The injustice of their situation becomes painfully obvious. And it’s often local churches that are alongside providing the necessary support especially to those officialdom has difficulty reaching. The Church Urban Fund (CUF) has over the last year supported church initiatives working in the 10% most deprived English neighbourhoods which have impacted the lives of over 216,513 people a week, which is a fraction of the number of churches we could support if we had the resources.
Over CUF’s twenty year lifetime we have seen real and lasting change take place but there is so much more to be done. And its that knowledge that is driving a new coalition of over 50 organisations, and still growing, to come together to launch in September the ‘Get Fair Campaign’. This includes those working with children, older people, refugees and disabled people plus housing groups, faith and community groups, and many more. Our vision is for a just and fair society free from poverty in all its forms. Get Fair’s main objectives are to mobilise public opinion to tackle poverty in the UK, and to secure the commitment of all major political parties to deliver on the existing commitment to end child poverty by 2020, extending this goal to ending poverty across every generation. Success along the way will include political parties making an explicit commitment to tackling poverty in their election manifestos.
Given the state of public opinion we have a lot of work to do but the more who join us the more likely we are to succeed. This issue is just far too important for us not to do something about it… Find out more and how to get involved at www.getfair.org.uk and www.cuf.org.uk
Hidden in outwardly idyllic rural communities or starkly present in 1960’s urban housing estates the poverty right on our doorstep is a reality.
Over CUF’s twenty year lifetime we have seen real and lasting change take place but there is so much more to be done.
Fran Beckett OBE is Chief Executive of the Church Urban Fund and Chair of the ‘Get Fair Campaign’ Steering Group
Fran Beckett, 05/02/2009