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Bishops concerned for ‘least advantaged’ after cuts

by
05 January 2011

by Ed Thornton

Against the elements: a snowy flight into Egypt, depicted in the Wintershall Nativity, an ecumenical production held outdoors in Surrey, a fortnight ago BENEDICT PARSONS

Against the elements: a snowy flight into Egypt, depicted in the Wintershall Nativity, an ecumenical production held outdoors in Surrey, a fortnight a...

SENIOR bishops have stepped up pressure on the Government to pro­tect services to those most in need as public spending is cut and VAT is increased.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in an interview with The Big Issue this week, said: “If this or that measure actually weighs more heavily on those who are already least ad­vantaged, then you’ve got a problem — it’s time to think.”

He warned: “When everyone’s feeling the pinch, like we are at the moment, there can be a tendency to take it out on those who are even poorer.” He noted the way that press reports used the word “‘workshy’ . . . as if that were the truth about the majority of people without work”.

In an interview with The Guardian last week, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who intro­duced a debate on the Govern­ment’s Big Society programme in the General Synod in November (News, 26 November 2010), said that the Church was ready to co-operate and play its part in serving communities, but it would “not collude in govern­ment neglect. . .

“We can’t simply take the weight of all those areas of responsibility. If there is the assumption that the Church will carry that load, we will have to speak out. This can’t be a throwing of a switch and saying the state walks out and the Church walks in.”

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, said in his Christmas sermon: “What will it be to ‘do righteousness’, in a time of ‘austerity’, with regard to poorer people both in our own society and across the world . . . and with regard, on the other hand, to bonuses for those who already earn most in so many walks of life?”

Craig Norman, the manager of the Vicar’s Relief Fund, part of the St Martin-in-the-Fields Christmas ap­peal, told The Guardian this week that the project, whose work in­cludes handing out emergency wel­fare grants, had received “many more applications than we have funds for”, and that it would “have to try to raise more money to overcome that extra cost of the higher VAT”.

The chief executive of the Asso­ciation of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, Sir Stephen Bubb, told The Times on Saturday that cuts in charity funding could prove “fatal” for the Big Society. “If the third sector pays today, it will be the homeless, the disabled, and the elderly tomorrow; and the day after, it will be taxpayers paying billions to pick up the pieces.”

Sir Stephen also said that local authority chief executives had told him “that they think voluntary services will be the first they will cut back because they think we [the charities] will be able to raise money through fund-raising and philanthropists”.

The co-founder of Community Links, David Robinson, who was invited to Downing Street in May for the launch of the Big Society pro­gramme, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister on 29 December, saying that, in 2011, “those who need our services —many amongst the most vulnerable in the country — will need them more. The expen­diture cuts are a double whammy in communities like ours, increasing unemployment . . . and closing services at the same time.”

Mr Robinson went on: “We are surely the bedrock of the Big Society, and we are wobbling. Without build­ings, leadership, training, and sup­port, we can’t grow our ‘little platoons’ quickly enough to fill the gaps.”

He recommended that the Gov­ern­ment increase bankers’ con­tribution to the Big Society bank. “We need £5 billion in this sector to sustain our position,” he said.

Williams: We can bear hardship if it is shared

THE Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the importance of mutual dependence and trust be­tween human beings, when he gave his sermon at Canterbury Cathedral on Christ­mas Day.

Dr Williams said that “solidarity with one another, in our society and our world”, would help to overcome future uncertainties. “Faced with the hardship that quite clearly lies ahead for so many in the wake of financial crisis and public spending cuts, how far are we able to sustain a living sense of loyalty to each other, a real willingness to bear the load together? . . .

“We can, and will, as a society, bear hardship if we are confident that it is being fairly shared; and we shall have that confidence only if there are signs that everyone is committed to their neighbour, that no one is just for­gotten, that no interest group or pressure group is able to opt out.”

Looking forward to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April, Dr Williams used the illustration of Christian marriage as “a sign of hope, since it is a sign and sacrament of God’s own committed love. And it would be good to think that, this coming year, we, as a society, might want to think through, care­fully and imaginatively, why lifelong faithfulness and the mutual sur­render of selfishness are such great gifts.”

He also called for solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world, particularly those in Zim­babwe, and spoke of the plight of Christians in Iraq, who were “facing more and more extreme violence from fanatics”. He said that he would continue to pray for Asia Bibi, the Christian woman in Pakistan who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy.

In his annual televised New Year message, Dr Williams focused on the 400th anniversary this year of the King James Bible. This version of the Bible, he said, had “got into the bloodstream of the people of this country”.

He urged people to use the occasion of the anniversary “to stop and think about the big picture, and to celebrate the astonishing con­tribution made by that book 400 years ago”.

He recommended that the Gov­ern­ment increase bankers’ con­tribution to the Big Society bank. “We need £5 billion in this sector to sustain our position,” he said.

THE Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the importance of mutual dependence and trust be­tween human beings, when he gave his sermon at Canterbury Cathedral on Christ­mas Day.

Dr Williams said that “solidarity with one another, in our society and our world”, would help to overcome future uncertainties. “Faced with the hardship that quite clearly lies ahead for so many in the wake of financial crisis and public spending cuts, how far are we able to sustain a living sense of loyalty to each other, a real willingness to bear the load together? . . .

“We can, and will, as a society, bear hardship if we are confident that it is being fairly shared; and we shall have that confidence only if there are signs that everyone is committed to their neighbour, that no one is just for­gotten, that no interest group or pressure group is able to opt out.”

Looking forward to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April, Dr Williams used the illustration of Christian marriage as “a sign of hope, since it is a sign and sacrament of God’s own committed love. And it would be good to think that, this coming year, we, as a society, might want to think through, care­fully and imaginatively, why lifelong faithfulness and the mutual sur­render of selfishness are such great gifts.”

He also called for solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world, particularly those in Zim­babwe, and spoke of the plight of Christians in Iraq, who were “facing more and more extreme violence from fanatics”. He said that he would continue to pray for Asia Bibi, the Christian woman in Pakistan who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy.

In his annual televised New Year message, Dr Williams focused on the 400th anniversary this year of the King James Bible. This version of the Bible, he said, had “got into the bloodstream of the people of this country”.

He urged people to use the occasion of the anniversary “to stop and think about the big picture, and to celebrate the astonishing con­tribution made by that book 400 years ago”.

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