Giles Fraser: It’s time to prepare for lean years

05 May 2010

Have a care for our poor politicians. Throughout the General Election campaign they have been accused of dishonesty, of hiding the amount of economic pain that is to come.

But the reality is simple: if they told the truth, they would be unelectable.

Usually we do not vote for parties that bring us bad news. So, because of us, politicians have to hide their gloomy prognosis behind a sunny-side-up façade. And then we have a go at them for being shifty.

One thing is clear. This new Government will shrink the size of the state. It has to. We are now up to our necks in debt, and even the most committed Keynesian would have to acknow­ledge that you cannot spend your way out of this one.

Look at what is happening in Greece.

This means that government services are going to be cut, and that many of the social benefits we have enjoyed over the past few decades are going to be withdrawn. It is also inevitable that these cuts will hit the poorest members of our society hardest.

This is why the Church must get ready to redouble its efforts on behalf of those who are going to feel more and more left out. It can do this in two ways: first, as advocate for the poor. As services get cut, we need to be alert to those occasions where cuts have an impact on the poor unfairly. Here we must be ready to blow the whistle and make a fuss.

Second, at both parish and dio­cesan level, we need to review our provision for pastoral care with these changes in mind. Let us not wait until it is too late. We need to get ourselves prepared to support people in some very tough times.

But there could be an up-side to all of this. With apologies to some of my friends in religious orders, I do not buy the idea that being poorer is a morally superior state to be in, but I do think that our relative wealth over the past decades has distanced us all from each other, and sustained a culture of socially indifferent in­dividualism. Money has been used by many of us as a way of protecting ourselves from our need for other people. As that money drains away, let us hope that we are flung back to-wards each other, recognising other people as the basic source of human flourishing.

In the past two decades, we made a pact to borrow money off our future selves. Thus we have been handed a huge IOU from the past, and now we have to deal with it. The Church may well have an important part to play in the lean years that face us all.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral and Director of the St Paul’s Institute.

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