I’m not political, but…
When we were treated to the press conference in the garden at No. 10 in May 2010, I was lulled by the ‘together in national interest’ statements. There were various pundits talking about how Clegg and Cameron got on well and that it did not seem too hard to pull a coalition agreement together made of common desires.
The Conservatives’ back-benchers were looking increasingly unhappy with their position, and the Lib Dems – although practically in favour of coalitions, as they want some form of PR – had a nasty shock that it could put them in power alongside the Tories. Even with all that, the Government has been quite stable, but has it been a different sort of government? Has it operated in the national interest? Has it been just and cared for the weak, whilst keep the nation safe from threats internal and external?
The benefits reforms were always going to be difficult. The New Labour government was unable to achieve this and found it easier to side-step the issue. However, the changes related to Universal Credit and the ‘bedroom tax’, on top of shortages of appropriate accommodation, particularly in London, seems to be creating issues which were not there previously, or at least not to the extent they soon could be.
So, what is our role in all this? I think that as part of the greater voluntary community sector (VCS), there is a role for faith-based organisations to point out where policies are having a detrimental effect on people, particularly those who are least likely to have sufficient voice. In most sacred texts, there is a commission to protect the poor, the widows, the orphans and the aliens. These may not be the majority, and this means that we stand up for minority causes, which is a must in a democracy. Otherwise, we are swayed by populism, just like a mob.
So, what of Universal Credit and the ‘bedroom tax’? There is a need for the system to be reformed, to be made more efficient, and for work to always pay. The complexity of bureaucracy has provided a place for many people. However, Universal Credit will mean that claimants potentially have larger amounts of benefits pass through their hands on a monthly basis. They will not have been given any real guidance on budgeting and managing money, and the attraction of payday loans will be greater. This could mean that those who have managed well on the old system will now find themselves in difficulties, and it will be because of a lack of skills rather than a reduction of funds. Surely, this is an unintended consequence?
The issues around housing have caused a surge of support for minority parties such as BNP, and they are dominating MP’s surgeries in London. With more local authorities buying properties outside of their own borough and shipping people to other parts of the country, this is a problem, the repercussions of which will affect us all. I have been interested in the lack of sympathy that some have for people having to move out from their home areas. Some of those I spoke to outside of London said that it was common for children to have to move away to find work, etc. But, of course, this is still a voluntary move; although the removal from home community is still difficult. The real issue I see is one of hopelessness. East London boroughs are already moving people to seaside towns. People are taken away from the economic possibilities of London to the economic inactivity of depressed seaside locations. So, if it is not of economic benefit, is there a possibility that this is a ruse to remove London of the unemployed and working poor, a ‘cleansing’ of sorts? It is a solution as such but it seems weighed against being redemptive. This sinister conclusion probably would not even come to mind if the 50p tax rate had not been dropped and Michael Gove’s education reforms did not seem so obviously aimed at skills and to favour grammar-style middle class dominated schools.
Maybe the role of faith and VCS is to drive the economic viability of those areas where people are being deposited. There is a role to challenge injustice and to bring hope. Our task may just be beginning.