This week the Catholic Cardinal-elect Vincent Nichols has spoken out about the scandal of poverty and the increasing failure of the safety net.
Archbishop Nichols concentrated on the increasing gaps in provision for the welfare of all our citizens.
He told heart-breaking stories on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme of people who had not eaten in days.
He described how he had been inundated with information about the problems in providing for the poor and needy
– information sent to him by those desperately trying to help them in a system increasingly set up to thwart those efforts.
When reminded that the budget for welfare was ‘ballooning’ and of the ‘scroungers’ of Benefits Street, he corrected the interviewer – including pointing out that ‘fraud’ accounts at most for 1% of that budget.
More power to his elbow.
He faces an uphill struggle to convince a public fed a continual diet of skewed reporting and poverty-porn.
Archbishop Nichols was specifically concerned with those unlucky enough to find themselves at the ‘mercy’ – strange word that in LibDem/Tory Britain – of the state’s provision.
There is another, and bigger story – of which that is just a part.
It’s the story of growing inequality – and the ills which result from that.
Will Hutton wrote recently about that.
We live in a society where the top 10% own 45% of the wealth – and the bottom 10% have so little that they show up more or less as 0%.
Where the average income of the top 0.1% is £1,000,097, and of the bottom 90% is £12,969 [yes, you did read those figures right – just think what they say about the incomes of the poor as well as the rich.]
Where a long-term trend to greater equality which stretched across the twentieth century ground to a halt in Thatcher’s 1970s – and has been opening up again ever since.
We’re now more or less back to the situation at the end of the First World War.
No wonder Mr Gove is keen to see that bit of history rewritten in his own way.
Inequality and poverty on this scale is a moral scandal.
It’s the sort of moral scandal that disturbs the Archbishop.
And it should disturb us all.
Inequality and poverty on this scale wrecks lives. It leads to premature deaths, to the rising inequalities of health outcomes which have characterised the last few years
– inequalities which the Thatcher revolution began – wilfully – to set in train.
And, in the end – and that means now – inequality on this scale affects us all. Everyone suffers in unequal societies – not just those at the bottom of the pile.
The Archbishop was particularly concerned with the effects of the LibDem/Tory Coalition’s ‘welfare’ changes – and with those who are now falling through the holes those changes have – wilfully – made.
There is also the problem of the demonization of the poor which the Coalition and its media friends have brought about.
‘Welfare’ is a dirty word now. Perhaps it’s beyond reclaim.
‘Social security’ was what we used to call it.
Remember that – what we all did for each other to provide that most important element in life – a sense of security.
And above all there is the mounting inequality.
Britain has got to be better than this.
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