We had the privilege of a general election last week in the UK. In the wake of the results it can be easy to loose sight of how fortunate we are to have the right to vote, free from bias and violence.
As I reflected on the election and the possible implications of the next five years, I was first struck with how blessed I am. I was brought up by parents who understood the value of education, with a mother who was able to teach me at home during the weeks and months of primary school I missed due to ill health. I was able to get good grades at school and as such had many opportunities open to me. I was brought up to understand the importance of using money wisely, and I learnt how to save and budget. This means that if catastrophe hit, I could get by on savings. I have a loving family who would help me if I was struggling, and who have the means to. I am blessed to have a full time job that I love, that pays the bills and allows me to live comfortably. I have a faith that keeps me grounded and helps me to get through the difficult times. I have a roof over my head, food in the cupboards, and good enough health to get by.
However, across the country there are thousands of people who don’t have all these things. There are those who find themselves too ill to work, having to leave their jobs once their sick pay runs out. There are those who have lost jobs through redundancy or business failure, staring unemployment in the face. There are young people who have already faced challenging circumstances in their lives and have left school with no qualifications, unable to find a job in such a competitive job market. There are those who have fled violent relationships and find themselves left with nothing, trying to heal from the scars of the past. There are men and women who struggle with mental and physical disabilities, facing discrimination to try and get into the workplace. There are people trapped on zero hour contracts, unsure whether this week there will be enough money to pay the bills. There are families where a parent has to give up work to care for a sick child, watching their financial security disappear in a heart beat. I could go on, but lets face it there are too many heart breaking situations to count.
These are some of the people who will find themselves needing the support of state benefits to survive. Over the past five years we have been informed time and time again by our media that these people are ‘scroungers’ and ‘lazy’. The road to benefits cuts has been paved with sensationalist headlines, with anger and scaremongering. We all make bad choices in our lives, and it’s true that some of these people will have done so too. Yet for others, life has simply dealt them a difficult hand and they are coping with it as best as they can. Either way these are the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Aren’t these the people we should be protecting first?
A few years ago these people were simply statistics to me, back then it was easier to leave it to someone else to care. But now these people are real to me, I knew some of their names and stories. And as we stand at the start of another five years of government, with the promise of benefits cuts to come, it is them that I am scared for.
I have already seen the impact of the benefits cuts that have gone before. It is my job to balance the incredibly tight budgets that have followed, forced to scrape food allowances down to unmanageable levels, just to take it out of the red. On those days, looking at those budgets, I am not surprised that these people have taken out credit to pay the bills, watching the debts mount. It was hard enough to survive on £73.10 per week Job Seekers Allowance before the 14% ‘bedroom tax’ came in. Do you know that if you’re under 25 this drops to £57.90 per week? Can you imagine taking food, gas, electricity, water, clothing and leisure from that amount of money? I don’t think I could do it, even with a degree in Mathematics these figures don’t add up.
I understand we are facing difficult economic times and that tough choices have to be made. We have to create a stable economy, fix the crumbling foundations left by our nation deficit. But are we really prepared to do this by standing on the shoulders of the poorest in our society? Why should they bear the brunt of these cuts? I agree that the benefits system should be a safety net rather than a first choice. But is the best solution to dependency really to cut holes in the safety net? What will we do with the people we no longer catch?
There are people I love and respect on both sides of this argument. It would be easy to not say anything for fear of being too political, of offending one group or another. I appreciate that I am no politician, I do not have to crunch the figures. I do not have the whole country to consider, and I have the luxury of hold principles fuelled by emotion and faith. Yet I write this because I fear that this is not just a political issue but a moral one. I believe that we have a duty to protect those who have the least and to speak up for those who don’t have a voice. How we succeed or fail in this duty will define us as a society.
The ballot papers have long since been counted, we have been awarded the government which our country voted for. But the story does not end here. We have a choice: we can give up and switch off until the next election or we can engage with our elected government. Every day we have an opportunity to show our government what matters to us, to support and oppose the changes we care about. There will be many new laws to be made and public opinion holds a powerful sway. And we must not forget to pray for our government, that they will have the wisdom and grace to govern fairly and mercifully.
We are blessed in our country to have charities and organisations who work tirelessly to try and catch those who fall through the net. CAP are just one of the many charities doing great things across our nation. I don’t doubt that when the cuts come, we will all find our workloads increasing. As ever we rely on people’s generosity to keep going. If you are able to support CAP in this way then I would be grateful. If not, then please pray for us, that we would be able to show God’s love to all those who come our way, and have the wisdom to help them out of debt and poverty.
We will all hold different opinions on how this country should be run, we will vote different ways for different reasons. But perhaps we can all agree that people are more than economic units. They are beautifully complicated human beings, full of hopes and dreams, fears and failures. We are created unique, valuable and worthy of compassion. Every single life matters, regardless of the choices we’ve made or the circumstances we find ourselves in. This is the truth we must try and keep at the heart of the decisions that are to come.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy”