Ranters of Mow Cop

Ranters of Mow Cop

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Building an Alternative Welfare System

 As I have already argued the growth of inequality and the neo-liberal campaign to reduce labour costs and to turn the working class into a disorganised precariarat who will bear most of the risks inevitable with capitalism has marched forward across the globe. The result is destitution for many, economic insecurity for most and growing discontent, while a tiny minority of plutocrats amass wealth and power with scant concern for morality or humanity. Increasing numbers of economists such as Professor Thomas Piketty, are arguing that capitalism in this form is no longer working.

Commentators such as Will Hutton are questioning the morality of gross inequality and unbridled executive pay deals, though he notes..

I doubt if any CEOs signing letters much worry about morals or religion and even practising Christian business leaders, such as HSBC's chair Stephen Green, while wringing their hands and searching their souls, do not offer a bold lead.

In a previous post I set out some of the things that Christians and the organised church are called to do in the face of the current crisis of inequality and destitution in the UK. But if we are to make a long term difference we need to engage in some hard thinking, and hard politics in conversations with the poor and powerless and the rich and powerful if we are to bring renewed hope for a good society. It is not sufficient to play a little part through our local church projects or to agree with David Cameron's recently renewed and highly debatable claim that Jesus invented the Big Society.

And it certainly will not do to accept the inevitability of church-based food banks becoming a permanent feature of welfare provision, by accepting the funding and associated eligibility criteria and control that is now on offer from local authorities. For example Blackpool Council has funded the Methodist led work of the Blackpool Food Partnership, and Lancashire County Council has just invited local food banks to apply for funding or reimbursement of food parcels at the rate of £26 per bag.

The conversations about being a good society initiated by Churches Together and Church Action on Poverty are a useful initiative, enabling Christians and others from a wide range of social background to share stories and express views. It is important too to engage critically with the discussions of the Together for the Common Good initiative and with the current Parliamentary enquiry into food poverty. However, in the long term and in the world of real politics some serious policy thinking about welfare and wealth distribution is required. It will need significant effort on the part of economists and politicians, and a massive campaign against the tide of the times to reassemble a society in which there is some reality behind assertions that we are all in it together.

One interesting and useful idea that was much discussed in the 1980s and has recently re-emerged is that of a Citizen's (or Basic ) income. Its advocates give many reasons (here are ten) in support of the policy. The Citizen's Income Trust promotes debate on the desirability and feasibility of a Citizen's Income by publishing a newsletter and other publications, maintaining this website, maintaining a library of resources, and responding to requests for information. While there may be many complex economic arguments with which we will have to engage, and a long uphill struggle to turn these ideas into political consensus or legislation, the idea does seem to have moral force from a Christian perspective. At the practical level a citizen's income could overcome the scandal of policies that produce destitution, and at the political level it could enable us to overcome the toxic rhetoric that divides the deserving from the undeserving poor and turns the "strivers" against the "scroungers". But best of all at the moral or theological level, a citizen's income would signal the good news that all human beings created in the image of God, and living in society under the common grace of God, have equal and intrinsic value in the sight of God. A person's worth when all is said and done should not be measured by their personal wealth.

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