Talking about inequality again…

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I know, it has been a bit of a theme recently; increasing inequality and the inevitable rise of poverty as the 1% grab more, whilst reframing the economic narrative around ‘austerity’ and creating fear of feckless insiders (benefits scroungers) and the undeserving outsiders (immigrants.)

The story of the decision of the UK government to cease involvement in rescuing immigrants from drowning in the Mediterranean sea has to be seen within this overarching narrative. We can send troops to fight Islamic militants in the (oil rich) middle east but saving the lives of people who are trying desperately to find a way to reach the promised land of wealth and opportunity will only ‘encourage more people to come’. More than 2,500 people are known to have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean since the start of the year; who knows what the real number is. The point is, not all lives are equal.

Some of the old dividing lines seem more fixed now than ever; North/South. Black/White. Man/Woman.

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The me-first mythologies behind understanding poverty, in which we come to believe that any measures to tip the balance back towards the have-not’s are somehow immoral, as they might somehow undermine human endevour/entrepreneurial effort, are pernicious heresies that have to be challenged.

Oxfam has started a new campaign, called Even it up, asking campaigners in 37 countries to unite behind the call for a more equal world.

How is it fair that a select few have more money than they could spend in several lifetimes, while millions of people around the world struggle to buy food for their families or send their children to school? Such extreme inequality is threatening to undo much of the progress made over the past 20 years in tackling poverty. Oxfam say that this inequality is not inevitable, rather is the consequence of economic and political choices being made in our name. Here are some of the facts as Oxfam sees them;

1. The world’s richest 85 people have as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity / half of the world
2. Since the financial crisis the number of billionaires has more than doubled and at least a million mothers died in childbirth.
3. Half a million dollars. That’s what the richest 85 people made every minute last year.
4. Today there are 16 billionaires in sub-Saharan Africa, alongside the 358 million people living in extreme poverty
5. Seven out of ten people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor has grown in the last 30 years.
6. A third of the world’s richest people amassed their wealth not through hard work, but through inheritance.
8. Every year, 100 million people are pushed into poverty because they have to pay for health care.
9. Getting all girls into primary school could cut the number of women dying in childbirth by two-thirds.
10. More than half of the world’s workers are in vulnerable or unstable work.
11. Without action it will take 75 years to achieve equal pay between men and women.
12. In 2013, tax dodging by rich elites cost the world at least €156 billion – enough to end extreme poverty twice over.
14. Developing countries lose billions of dollars due to corporate tax dodging.
15. Today, a small tax of 1.5% on billionaires could get every child into school and deliver health services in the poorest countries.

 

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UK kids describe what living in poverty is like…

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I read this article in the Guardian today. It was hard to finish it.

Firstly because it was heartbreaking reading about kids trying to get by, trying to transcend the shit that we subject them to. Trying to hide from the harsh glare of the hierarchy.

Secondly because I was one of those kids.

35 years ago however was a better time to be the child of a single mother living on benefits. They were worth more in real terms than they are now. There was also a generally more benign societal view towards the poor; it was the role of the state to try to support and assist- even though in many ways it always failed, still there was this desire to strive towards a more equal society.

But what I remember most of all was not the lack of stuff, the absence of material possessions, holidays, mobility, choices. What I remember most of all was the shame. I was a head taller than anyone else in my class and it was impossible to hide. I entered every encounter with a sense of being less-than. Things that came easy to others took huge effort. My awkwardness and alienation was like a force field which was every bit as visible as my odd clothing.

It comes to me still, in moments of vulnerability; we never quite escape the children we once were.  We are primarily social beings after all…

Perhaps gradation and discrimination over minor difference is a human characteristic- from the playground onwards. But poverty, this is the source of so much ordinary day to day evil. It is not motivating, it is not romantic, it does not forge any kind of community spirit. Poverty brutalises, degrades, isolates and defeats people. It perpetuates itself through a thousand small failures.

I got out. I clambered onto a ledge of safe solid respectability and mostly ignored the vertigo. Most of the others can not. My whole working life has been concerned with trying to grapple with the reality of this for huge sections of our population.

The scary thing is, it is getting worse.

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Castle Lachlan, Autumn…

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I took a photographic trip to the old Castle Lachlan today to take some images for use in their publicity materials. It was a fairly decent day for photos, could although I made the rookie error of only taking one camera battery, which ran out. I will have to go back, which is no hardship.

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Here are a few of the pics;

 

Children who are killed by their parents; we still have so much to learn…

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I do not tend to watch TV programmes about social work (not that there are many of them) as they tend to either bore me or make me angry. Last night, this one was a major exception.

The documentary did not say much that I did not already know- I have reflected on the tragic story of the death of a boy known as baby Peter many times on this blog, in an attempt to tell something of the complexity of attempting to protect children through bureaucracy, and my total frustration at the vilification of my profession (social work) as being somehow culpable for what sadly what is an all too frequent occurrence.

Around 260 other children have been killed by their parents since Peter died. We do not know their names. Many of them were also known to services.

The difference in this case is that the press decided that scapegoats were required. They made no effort to understand, to engage in debate about the nature of the task, to understand the inter-relationships between agencies, to consider the resources that are being applied to the task and whether they are adequate or appropriate.

The story that they chose to create was one of the failure of social workers, and to a lesser extent, a ‘foreign’ doctor. Three social work staff, including a rather brilliant director (Sharon Shoesmith) were destroyed in the public eye.

Politicians, particularly David Cameron and Ed Balls then weighed in- one to make political capital, the other running scared of The Sun newspaper and the Murdoch empire.

It became a witch hunt.

If you want to understand how organisations attempt to protect the most vulnerable members of our society from those who should be their closest protectors, then you should watch this programme.

Watch it to understand how things go wrong, but remember too that many many children do not die, because of the intervention of these very organisations, and the dedicated staff who work within them.

You might like to check out some of my earlier posts on this subject;

Here,

here, and

here.

Communing…

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It was Aoradh Sunday today- the day in the month when we get together as a group to share food and worship together. We use a simple structure- people bring contributions for the table, and an item to use as part of a worship event- song, video clip, activity, thought, poem etc…

Today we shared communion, around a clay tablet that we had made at the last gathering (and had since been fired, glazed and mounted.) It has names of people who are involved in Aoradh, along with names of God on it. It will spend time in different homes over the next year.

It was also the gathering closest to the birthdays of two of our number, who will both notch up 50 years. That is a lot of candles. (Thanks to Sharon who supplied the cake despite not being well enough to attend herself. Get well soon…)

It was a lovely gentle afternoon and I am deeply thankful for the friends that I am surrounded with.

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N B-W shows some (tattooed) flesh…

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Here is one of those problems that affects us ever more in this age of total communication, where everyone is open to 24 hour digital scrutiny;

Movements of people need leadership.

Leaders tend to fail, sooner or later (they are just like us after all.)

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor of Church or All Saints and All Sinners in Denver, is undoubtedly giving leadership on some really important issues, from inside (or at least on the edge) of organised religion. Along with her faith community, she has broken open a lot of issues around inequality, greed, the destruction of the environment and (of course) homosexuality.

I believe that if we are to find a place of real change, we need leaders who will challenge and show a different way. I also believe that change requires heart, passion, spirituality, and that the this is where an encounter with the radical love of Jesus starts to break things open.

There is an interview in which she tells something of her story here. Be inspired.

But expect too that the pedestal that we place her on will inevitably crumble… but the ideas can live on through the radical tradition that she (and we) are part of, known simply as ‘The Kingdom of God’.

The People’s Narcissist…

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It is easy to sneer at Russel Brand. His shtick is just so cringe making half the time- that mix of awkward sweary truisms mixed in with 12-steps to recovery prophetic zeal.

Tonight Michaela and I took the kids to see the Guardian Live screening of Owen Jones and Russell Brand talking about revolution. There were many moments when I found myself cringing into my seat.

But I also cried.

Brand’s basic point is that having in theory won the celebrity/wealth/success lottery, he found that it was all hollow, shallow. He found that in consuming more than anyone could ever want he was destroying himself, and then as part of an on going process of recovery, he knew that he could not stay silent- he had to use the platform he had to raise some objections. He had to challenge the shallow emptiness, the unfairness, the unsustainability, the selfishness.

In many ways, he spoke like a religious convert, the other side his Emmaus Road experience. The meeting was screened from the Emmanuel Centre- a big church in Central London, and just above his left shoulder were the words of John 10:10 I have come to bring you life, and life in all it’s fullness. Brand himself has the words of Francis of Assisi tattooed on his arm Lord make me a channel of your peace.

And tonight, I think the prayer was being answered, in part at least. At one point he told all the audience that they were “..all Fucking Lovely, and it is all going to be OK…” if we just learn some humility and start to look for ways to help one another. Simplistic, emotional, naive even, but also a sweary echo of what Jesus was all about.

There were no real big ideas tonight- no complex processes of change, no economic alternatives to the Capitalist overarching evil narrative- but the clarity of the objection to what is, and the desire to change was all there.

There were 5 of us in the cinema in Dunoon. It was just like going to church. In a good way. The revolution starts here…

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