Welfare state…

children-were-classed-as-being-in-poverty-if-their-family-s-income-fell-below-60-of-the-median-average-income-143067855

 

Welfare State

 

The sofa split some years ago

The gas fire hisses as if

through broken teeth.

Colin tries to stir up hope

On the Baby Belling whilst the TV screen sucks

the kids in like flecks of dust.

 

A manufactured crisis for some pop star wannabe

Stabs out from the fat old tube.

The crowd scream – no wonder.

And Colin stares into the tangled noodles wondering

What might become of the children

For not one of them can sing.

 

But their faces, lit by cathode light

Are beautiful.

 

 

 

The voice of the Church…

p9_uk_poverty

Over the last few days, a rare thing has been happening- leading voices in the Church have started to speak out, and the media has been taking an interest. More remarkably, the issues that they have spoken on are not the usual internal contortions around homosexuality and the role of women in Church hierarchy; instead the Church is engaging in a debate about things that really matter.

First the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, challenged the British Government over planned welfare reforms, saying that the poorest children in the country were most at risk.

Next the new Pope started to challenge the culture of elitism in the Catholic church, and refocus his mission on the poor- first washing the feet of female inmates at a detention centre (including a Moslem woman) then calling for “peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st century. Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources”.

uk-poverty-image

Now, step forward the Evangelicals and non-conformists…

On the eve of the most sweeping and devastating raft of welfare cuts and reforms since the beginning of the Welfare State in the UK, a coalition of churches, including Methodists, United Reformed, Baptist and Church of Scotland raised their voices;

Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser at the Methodist Church, said the churches were concerned that the benefit cuts were “a symptom of an understanding of people in poverty in the United Kingdom that is just wrong”. Speaking to the BBC, Morrison said: “It is an understanding of people that they somehow deserve their poverty, that they are somehow ‘lesser’, that they are not valued. The churches believe that they are valued and we believe that they should be treated much more fairly than they are being.”

Morrison and other church figures were promoting a report published recently by the four churches accusing politicians and the media of promoting six myths about the poor: that they are lazy; are addicted to drink or drugs; are not really poor; cheat the system; have an easy life; and that they caused the deficit.

“The systematic misrepresentation of the poorest in society is a matter of injustice which all Christians have a responsibility to challenge,” the report says.

Morrison said: “We saw that people who we value, who we believe God values and God loves, we saw them being insulted day in and day out in the media, and that needed to stop. The consequence of the attitudes towards the poor is that welfare cuts like this become more acceptable, so it’s right that we criticise that too.”

Well said.

The church- on the side of the Angels- who knew?

The Government here seem rattled. Grant Shapps, Chairman of the Conservatives has been pushing back– suggesting that there is a moral case for rewarding those in work. Good old Victorian values those- make the workhouses so bad that it is better to shove our kids up chimneys.

Let us remember that at the same time as all these cuts, the government has reduced the top rate of income tax paid over a certain level of income by the very highest earners) from 50% down to 45%.

It all fits the rhetoric- reward the strivers, punish the skivers. Justify this by vilifying those who receive benefits. It matters not that the rhetoric does not fit reality, or what casualties line the roadside.

And those of us who are comfortable, well provided for- we are being told that we dangle over a precipice, and that all this is necessary.  It is not.

The Church should be at the loving heart of this matter- our conscience- a mirror to hold up before those in power. Whilst I feel a shame at what our government is doing, I find hope in the voices coming from Christians.

Poverty in the UK 2013…

poverty2804_468x431

The strivers/skivers language used by our present government is a shameful smokescreen over what is happening to whole sections of our society.

I make no apologies for this assertion- I have seen it with my eyes, and now there is this;

Senior welfare experts have urged the government to reconsider benefit cuts coming into force next week that will disproportionately hit the poorest families and push a further 200,000 children into poverty.

In an open letter to David Cameron, published in the Guardian, more than 50 social policy professors warn that the welfare reforms, coupled with previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts, will result in the poorest tenth of households losing the equivalent of around 38% of their income.

They say the changes will undermine public support for the welfare state – which they call “one of the hallmarks of a civilised society”.

“Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations.

“Misleading rhetoric concerning those who have to seek support from the welfare state, such as the contrast between ‘strivers’ and ‘shirkers’, risks undermining that trust and, with it, one of the key foundations of modern Britain.”

The letter argues that such rhetoric does not reflect the reality of a UK where families move fluidly in and out of work and in and out of poverty.

It adds: “In the interests of fairness and to protect the poorest, as well as to avoid the risk of undermining the consensus on the British welfare state, we urge you to increase taxation progressively on the better off, those who can afford to pay (including ourselves), rather than cutting benefits for the poorest.”

As I read this, I can hear ringing in my head the voices of people who regard poverty in this country as almost entirely the fault of the poor- their poor planning, fecklessness, gambling, smoking, drinkings, laziness, refusal to get out there and find a job. I hear them tell me how benefits are the problem- removing the imperative for change and industry in those who then become a sponge on the productivity of society. ‘Nobody needs to be poor in this country’ I hear them say. ‘Nobody can be regarded as poor if they wear designer trainers and sit on their arses playing X-box all day.’

People who say these things, even those who grew up in poor households, they have rarely had any contact with those living in poverty- whose confidence and hope have been undermined by the brutalising effect of living as a non-citizen in post modern classless Britain.

I too grew up in a poor family- the child of a single mother who often did not eat so we could go to piano lessons, or have a new pair of shoes. I remember still the shame of this life- the feeling that I was less than my peers, and that no matter what I did to try to hide this, it was as if I wore a big badge saying ‘poor’. This was nothing to do with choices that I, or even my mother had made. There was nothing romantic about this experience, nothing that might be regarded as character building. What I became has always been built on these very shaky foundations.

I was reminded again of this when reading this;

A separate report compiled by academics from six UK universities concludes that Britain’s poorest are worse off today than they were at the height of the cuts imposed by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1983.

The Poverty and Exclusion project reports that 33% of British households lacked at least three basic living necessities in 2012, compared with 14% in 1983. These include living in adequately heated homes, eating healthily, and owning basic clothing items such as properly fitting shoes.

“Despite the fact that the UK is a much wealthier country, levels of deprivation are going back to the levels found 30 years ago,” says the report, titled The Impoverishment of The UK.

Some of the findings are featured in an ITV Tonight programme titled Breadline Britain on Thursday evening.

The report found:

• Around 4 million adults and almost 1 million children lack at least one basic item of clothing, such as a warm winter coat, while 3 million adults of working age (including over a fifth of those looking for work) cannot afford appropriate clothes for a job interview.

• Roughly 4 million children and adults are not fed properly judged against what most people consider to be a minimally acceptable diet – meaning they do not eat three meals a day, including fresh fruit, meat, fish and vegetables. Over a quarter of all adults skimped on meals so others in their households could eat.

• One-third of all adults can’t afford to pay unexpected costs of £500 (such as if a cooker breaks down), 31% can’t afford to save at least £20 a month, and 1 million children can’t afford to join sports training or drama clubs.

• About 11 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions and nearly one in ten households are unable to afford to fully heat their home.

The project measures who and how many people fall below what the majority agree are “necessities for life” in the UK today. The list of necessities also includes consumer items such as a washing machine and a telephone, and social activities like visiting friends and family in hospital.

“The results present a remarkably bleak portrait of life in the UK today and the shrinking opportunities faced by the bottom third of UK society,” said the head of the project, Professor David Gordon of Bristol University. “Moreover this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real terms, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”

What gets me most about our present government and the politics they espouse is the grubby defensive self serving flavour of it all. Our ambitions for society have become, at best, to carve for ourselves some individual security, and let those who lack our ambition go hang.

How do you find ambition if you feel nothing but defeat? If the zeitgeist all around you is redolent with hopelessness?

My mate Graham posted this quote the other day;

I stored this from a wonderous mailing called ‘Friday night theology’ back in October and is written by someone called Roger Sutton. Most of this could as easily be read by a person with faith or no faith. I love the way that it points us to the other and is not the usual motivational self, self guff. Great for Holy Week:

‘When you believe life is limited, with only so many resources to go round then you naturally hold on to what you have, you grasp and hoard and defend. It’s an ugly place to live, with fear and anxiety at its heart. But if you believe life is unlimited, abundant and providential then you can respond with a grateful heart for the bread we receive each day knowing there will be more bread just around the corner. We can give and bless others and take care of those who are the most vulnerable, knowing that true compassion knows no limit, it has no fatigue element. Stewardship then replaces control, where we take responsibility to make sure the resources are allocated in fair and just ways, but always knowing that we bring our small offering of loaves and fish. It’s simply what we have, and the force of abundance adds to those humble gifts and multiplies them.

We need to challenge our propensity towards anxiety, believing that life is out to get us. We need to trust again in the God of harvest time, the providing abundant force in the universe. The future, as Daniel O’Leary in Passion for the Possible tells us: “is a mother waiting for us with outstretched arms, and a father who is crazy about our  freedom and our fulfillment and longs only for us to let him love us”

Where my friends is this kind of politics, this kind of economics, this kind of social policy?

This kind of religion?

Trickle down economics; economic lie number one…

The first of a little mini series about Capitalism that has been nagging at me for a while…

trickle down economics

There was an article in out local paper last week- Argyll and Bute council, like most of our councils, has to make significant cuts to the budget. Despite our large geographical area, Argyll has a low density of population and services are already stretched tight. The article listed the sordid detail of the cuts- older peoples care, youth rehab, road schemes, outsourcing services to the private sector who will do the support of our most vulnerable more cheaply etc etc.

And what is all this about? Why is money suddenly so tight? Why do we all buy into the collective idea that ‘times are hard’ and so ‘we all have to tighten our belts?’

The fact is that not all of us do tighten our belts. Many people are doing very well out of the crisis. This from the Guardian;

The super-rich – the top 1% of earners – now pocket 10p in every pound of income paid in Britain, while the poorest half of the population take home only 18p of every pound between them, according to a report published this week by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, which reveals the widening gap between those at the very top and the rest of society.

Inequality has grown sharply over the past 15 years, according to Resolution’s analysis: the top 1% of earners have seen their slice of the pie increase from 7% in the mid-1990s to 10% today, while the bottom half have seen their share drop from 19% to 18%.

And then there are those right at the bottom- the Strivers who are forced to become Scyvers, or the Skyvers who have lost hope, or those who never had a fair crack of the whip in the first place. Have you noticed that when the economy takes a dip, they always take a hit? They become the problem– the scapegoats.

So we see all these regressive punative policy decisions being pursued by our current government- lower benefits to fewer people, changes to housing benefit to force people to leave their homes if they have an extra bedroom. All this in the context of reductions in care provision, and less funding for voluntary bodies and charities. Our current government is doing things that even Thatcher at her most strident would have baulked at.

But again- why? Where does all this come from?

What the neo-liberal economists will tell us is that the problem is caused by natural adjustments made by a self regulating economic system. That the job of us all is to get out of the way and let it all sort itself out like some kind of higher intelligent life form. The problem, they would say, is an over inflated public sector, whose interference in the natural order of things by public spending, taxation and welfare provision means that the economy fails to self regulate.

This kind of economic thinking has become so pervasive, so wrapped up in the political system, so much in service of powerful self interests, that we all wriggle on its hook. We are compliant because we have bought in to some of the lies that the system has sold to us- perhaps the biggest one is this one- Trickle down theory.

In a nu­tshell, trickle-down theory is based on the premise that within an economy, giving tax cutsto the top earners makes them more likely to earn more. Top earners invest that extra money in productive economic activities or spend more of their time at the high-paying trade they do best (whether that be creating inventions or performing heart surgeries). Either way, these activities will be productive, reinvigorate economic growth and, in the end, generate more tax revenue from these earners and the people they’ve helped. According to the theory, this boost in growth will ultimately help those in lower income brackets as well.

So, the argument is, if we have lots of rich people, and they are encouraged to become super rich, then our country, and our economy, will benefit- right down to the roots.

This analysis does not regard the wealth of the few as contingent upon the poverty of many- in this country and even more crucially in the poor countries around the world whose raw materials and cheap labour we are entirely dependent upon.

It also does not conform with the facts, as the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

As the worlds resources are over consumed by the few and our environment continues to be damaged, perhaps beyond repair.

As austerity plans are still touted as ‘good housekeeping’, as if the UK economy could be compared to a household budget.

So, what is the alternative? Fairer, more progressive tax systems? This might be a start- but I think the problem is the system- and we are all part of the system aren’t we? It is really hard to get out of it- the mortgages, the gadgets, the foreign holidays and the dependency on technology to deliver distraction, entertainment and connection.

Where is the Kingdom of God in all of this? What are we, the agents of this Kingdom , to put our energy towards? I am convinced that we need to be engaged critics of injustice wherever we see it- particularly towards the poor and the marginalised.

And the beginning of how we can do this is to take a look at the system through a different set of lenses…

‘Problem families’…

So, the government has revealed it’s plan to deal with all those anti-social, work shy, boozing and school absconding families that are the scourge of our towns and cities. Hear what a rather belligerent Eric Pickles had to say about it all on the Today programme here.

It is the latest in a long line of government attempts to intervene in the lives of those who have fallen through the holes in our society. We used to talk about social class of course, but this has been out of fashion for some time. The last Labour Government used the language of ‘social exclusion‘, and poured resources into education and measures to deal with child poverty. There is some evidence of success, in that by the end of their term of office, 900,000 children appeared to have been lifted out of poverty- see this article in the Guardian for some discussion about this.

Since then, austerity has opened the door to widespread reductions in benefit, an undermining of family support services, and now, the measures to help ‘problem families’.  Note the subtle change in emphasis. No longer is poverty, crime and family dysfunction a matter of economics or a measure of the failure of society- rather it relates to the failure of individuals. We are using the language of blame.

But what can be done, particularly in these times of austerity, to change the lives of those people in our society who are most vulnerable? Might Pickles’ policy of identifying these ‘problem families’, then bringing to bear a wide range of support along with some targeted spending actually help? Is he not just applying good common sense?

By the tone of some of Pickles’ comments over the past few days, it is clear that he has little interest in learning from those of us who have been trying to work in support of the poorest and most broken in our society. They are fluent in social work he said. The Daily Mail loved it;

‘Sometimes we have run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame,’ he said. The Government is spending £450million to try to lessen the problems these families cause, which are calculated to cost taxpayers £9billion a year.

The problem of course, is that in the UK (as in the USA) poverty is politics. And politics loves to simplify and make one dimensional protestations. Often there are scapegoats.

Again, what can be done about these ‘problem families’?

It seems we have two broad approaches, which I will characterise as ‘Pickles’ and ‘Politically correct’ (or ‘PC’.)

Pickles

Poverty is a matter of morality. It is about poor choices made by people who are a drain on everything that is good about our society.

There may be some who are the deserving poor- Tiny Tim on his crutches, the elderly yokel who has run out of turnips. For these people, the parish has its Poor House.

However, there are also those who have found a way to sponge of the system. What is worse, there is a whole industry of people whose job appears to be about supporting them in this.

These people are a threat to middle England- to those of us who do work hard, cut our front lawns and live prudently within our means. They are the source of disease, crime and noise pollution.

What is needed is a good sharp shock, delivered in a targeted way.

All this liberal research about the causes of poverty is left wing twaddle dressed up as ‘science’.

PC

Poverty is about economics. People are shaped by the place in society they are born into- their opportunities and life chances are largely given to them, not matters of choice.

There are huge vested interests in society that keep things this way.

Poverty brutalises. If you live in a survival economy, and have few opportunities for escape, then small wonder that you will be more likely to find release through drugs or alcohol. Why are we surprised too that some turn to crime?

The human spirit is unquenchable – after all, many still escape the poverty trap – but many others need nurture. They need hope, not condemnation. To blame poor people for poverty is like blaming Jews for the  Holocaust.

People do not chose to be poor. Neither (with a few exceptions) do they chose to live on benefits. They do this because they do not have hopes for a real alternative. This is a failure of society, and one that any good society should try to change, no matter how difficult this might be.

The most effective means of changing the lives of the poor is to raise their income.

In the absence of this, a whole range of community based activities are required, guided by careful research, learning from previous interventions so as to avoid the many mistakes of previous attempts at social engineering.

Regular readers of this blog will already suspect which of the two camps I belong to.

But they might also be surprised to hear me say that I believe that both have merit. There is a moral dimension to all of life that we ignore at our peril. Remember Durkheim and his Anomie? We all have personal responsibility for the choices we make, even if for many of us, these choices are limited by our experience.

There is that old parable that Jesus used in Matthew 25- another one of those passages where Jesus was trying to explain something about the Kingdom of God;

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This parable always seemed so unfair and cruel to me- un-Jesus-like. I have heard it used as a capitalist manifesto, but I do not think it has anything to do with money- I think it is something to do with wasted lives though. We have a call to live abundantly- not in terms of how much we gain and consume, but rather in terms of how we love and create.

However, there is more. Jesus had much to say about our duty towards the poor. He was never into the blame game. He seemed to prefer the company of those who had little. He seemed to invite his followers to do the same;

Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

These are not easy issues. They can not be dealt with by one dimensional politics, or well meaning liberal intentions.

Ultimately, the success or failure of Pickles’ latest pet project will not be at his cost- it will be felt by those most vulnerable people in our society.

International Woman’s Day…

Today is International Woman’s Day.

I wondered about the need for a day to celebrate half of us- seems a wee bit of an over generalisation. Perhaps it might suggest too that all the rest are ‘men’s days’.

But then again perhaps they are right;

  • Women make up half of the world’s population and 70% of the world’s one billion poorest people.
  • Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half of the world’s food, but earn only 10% of the world’s income.
  • Of the 500,000 women who die in childbirth every year, 99% live in developing countries. In other words, in developing countries, a girl or a woman dies every minute giving birth.
  • Two thirds of the 800 million adults who lack basic literacy skills are women.

(Figures from Traidcraft. You can donate a few quid towards their work to support women to help themselves here.)

I can change little about the justices and injustices of this wonderful broken world we live in, apart from little bits of money here and there, and perhaps some words.

Because I still hope that poetry might find cracks and widen them.

I read an interview in which the opening lines of this poem were spoken by a mother over her daughter, and they did something to me. I hope that you will forgive this white, middle class man for presuming to use the voice of a woman in this way- as some of the words were hers…

I have a dream for my daughter

That she may live a life

Better than mine

That this plastic bowl I fill with water

Might one day be plumbed-in porcelain

That the cotton dress worn thin by the rocks I wash it on

Might become a pressed skirt and blouse all office white

That these Flip Flops sewn with telephone wire

Might be breathed upon by some God-mother

And become instead

An English bicycle

.

I have a dream for my daughter

That she may not be owned

Or used

Or victimised

She will be strong

Like bright green bamboo

She will speak

And men will listen

Poverty in small towns…

A few years ago I found myself in the middle of one of those internet ‘spats’- you know the sort- a discussion forum kind of thing that becomes increasingly acrimonious and strangely hurtful.

It was a surprise for several reasons- firstly the discussion ranged across several different Christian sites, and a FB group which I had set up in an attempt to make connections around ‘emerging church’ types of issues. You would have thought that Christians would know better than argue about doctrine and practice wouldn’t you?

Secondly I was surprised how difficult I found the discussion. Insulated by cyber-space and in discussion with people I did not really know, I was still vulnerable. I think this was because I was so hungry for connection at the time, and the end result was the opposite of this. It felt like such an opportunity lost.

And finally because I felt something that I carried as a strength (my commitment to social justice) came under direct attack.

The issue raised was the ‘Emerging Church is middle class’ one. The evidence for this was that it tended to attract white, male, professional Christian malcontents, who lived in the suburbs.

Mixed in with this was a bit of a issue of funding- it was suggested at the time that the resources released to and by these groups tended to go no-where near the disenfranchised and marginalised parts of our society.

One of the protagonists was part of a church planting movement, whom I will not name, but clearly was fired with a passion for urban outreach, which for him meant moving out of the suburbs to live and witness in the city amongst the people in the greatest poverty and the greatest need. I admired and was challenged by his zeal, but pointed out that this was not the only way that the emerging church communities might engage with their context. I listed some of the ways that my own community tried to do this-

1. Many of us worked within caring professions- social work, community work, youth work.

2. Several of us where unable to work for health reasons, but still volunteered in LINK clubs, charity shops, community action.

3. Our group itself was made up of a fairly broad spectrum of people- several with acute MH problems, others in later years, and our activities were certainly not heavy on resources- everything we did was on a shoestring.

4. And we looked for partnerships with other community groups all the time- locating what we did in the middle of our town, not out in the comfortable outskirts (if indeed there are any!)

I also talked about the nature of living and working in rural/small town Scotland- the hidden poverty and stigmatising that can be part of such places- and how suggesting that poverty only existed in cities was rather silly.

None of this cut any ice. From his point of view, I think that social work was part of the problem, certainly not the solution, and all the rest was justification for not doing what Jesus wants us to do- which was to move to the city and work with the poor.

I think in some ways, I kind of agree with him. The comfortable life we live in Dunoon is a far cry from inner city streets. The question of how this integrates with a trying to live as followers of Jesus has exercised my thoughts constantly.

And no-one is a harsher critic of Social Work than I am- even though to blame my profession for poverty makes as much sense as blaming the police for crime, or ambulance drivers for car accidents.

But the fact is, I am here. My kids are here. My friends and my community are here. The measure of the life we live is how we might seek to live out lives full of Grace wherever we find ourselves.

And we should be careful about imposing our own passions and our calling on others. I wonder how things have gone for my friend. I genuinely hope that they have gone well, and that  good has been done in situations of real need. But my experience has been that wisdom comes with miles travelled- and a few failures/successes along the way.

The discussion is ancient history now but the reason I am raking it up again is because of a newspaper report I read today about my little town. Mortality and poverty rates are the third worst for any area across the whole of the Scottish Highland area. Only the Merkinch area of Inverness and Alness, south Wick have poorer measures. I sort of knew this instinctively, but it is still a surprise to see it confirmed by wider measures.

The picture of the whole county is similarly challenging- 18000 of the 60,000 people of Argyll and Bute live in poverty, and our take home pay is 9% less than the national average.

In the mix are high levels of alcohol abuse. Reports from the courts in our local paper are almost all alcohol related.

All this means that inequalities in health have worsened- those in poverty are likely to suffer poorer health than 10 years ago- and these people are also more vulnerable in the current economic climate, as public services are squeezed, and low paid jobs become more competitive.

How do you do anything about this? What combination of micro and macro interventions might begin to change it all? Whole reports have been written about all this (remember the Black report?)

It is never easy- but for sure, one important component is the heart and strength of the communities we are part of. The wellbeing we experience through connection and shared purpose and meaning. The learning of tolerance and respect despite all the usually opponents to these things.

We do not have all the answers- I am no Messiah, but this sounds to me like a calling. A Jesus kind of calling…