I joined a march in Glasgow earlier this month to protest
against the reduction in housing benefit for those deemed to have a
spare bedroom (Comment, 5 April). I
marched for two reasons: first, to show support for those who are
being penalised by the move; and, second, to demonstrate to the
Government that we want reform that is fair in how it is
For me, the message of this season of Easter is that we should
try to bring about God's Kingdom in the present, carrying it into
the situations that we encounter in everyday life. The so-called
"bedroom tax" is intended to move people into smaller properties,
freeing family-sized housing for those on waiting lists. While the
aim may be good, this is a clumsy means of carrying it out. "This
isn't the way to go about reform," one small-businessman said to
In addition to the substantive issue of reform, the increasingly
hostile language used about people on benefits - "feckless",
"cheats", "spongers" - encourages the majority to scapegoat them.
In reality, benefits have become the norm for many people in this
country in the form of pensions, which account for the greatest
part of the benefits bill; child benefit, which has underpinned
family life for nearly 50 years; and working-family tax credits,
which top-up many incomes.
Furthermore, the whole country has benefited from the employment
generated by a welfare state whose jobs replaced those that were
lost in manufacturing industries. Through this transition, as the
rights culture has grown and medical technology has advanced,
benefit-dependency has been created by the very professionals who
were charged with caring for us.
I have experience of this. When my baby son was dying of
meningitis, I asked the consultant paediatrician to let him go
peacefully, to save him from lifelong dependency; but the doctor
insisted on treating him. "Society will always care for him," he
As a mother, even though I was facing a lifetime of care, and
loved my baby in a way that the professional did not, I was
powerless. My son survived, but with such profound learning
disabilities that he will need care and benefits all his life.
AS A society, we have chosen to support individual human rights,
and to value all people; but there is a cost, which the whole of
society must uphold. My son, my family, and I have paid the price
in our lives, and through the social contract that was created by
the paediatrician and us, society has to pay its part.
The same could be said for soldiers injured in combat, and older
people, who now live longer. There is no difference for those who,
for a variety of factors, find themselves living on benefits in
places that offer no employment and little hope. Our Governments
took decisions that shaped our economy, while ghettos of
benefit-dependency and unemployment developed: there was an
invisible social contract with those who lived in them, too.
On Easter morning, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church,
the United Reformed Church, and the Baptist Church reissued their
paper The Lies We Tell Ourselves, (Leader comment,
5 April). It provides an alternative narrative to the
"scapegoat" language. Christians everywhere can use it to help
challenge perceptions of those who are termed "benefit cheats" - in
intercessions, preaching, and ordinary conversations.
Churches can make clear that social issues - including justice,
work, education, human rights, and peace - are the business of us
all. As communities, we can urge local authorities to ensure that
welfare reform is done slowly, people are treated with dignity, and
costs borne by everyone, with efficiency balanced against
AS A carer who has had to go through stressful application and
appeals processes, I know how cumbersome the system is: evidence
suggests that it is harder for people with literacy problems and
those who are different culturally from the professionals whom they
We can find practical ways to accompany those who are affected
by these changes. A number of Christian websites include resources
to help, including the Church of Scotland's leaflet on welfare
and the main Church of England site, which offers material on debt,
mental-health, alcohol, and drugs.
The URC National Synod of Scotland signed the "See me" pledge to
work towards ending stigma around mental health; and it offers
signposting to services from its website. Street Pastors is a
Christian organisation ministering on the streets to people with
alcohol and drug problems, three-quarters of them between the ages
of 18 and 25 (Features, 30
Many other congregations and individual Christians are
supporting initiatives to develop food banks, distribute food
parcels, run lunch clubs, and support homeless people.
By these and other means, and by taking the issues seriously, we
can be assured that we are all beloved children of God, sharing the
benefits of his creation.
Kate Sainsbury is a Lay Reader in the Scottish Episcopal
Church, and the winner of the 2012 Fraser Prize for theological