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Encouraging the victims of war

28 February 2014

Analysing a "perfect storm": Lord Carey writes in The Times

Analysing a "perfect storm": Lord Carey writes in The Times

BEFORE we dive into the serious stuff, a marvellous quote from Jeremy Paxman, who was reviewing a book on journalism in The Guardian: "News is just some things that have happened, as chosen by some not-very-interesting people running newspapers and television.

"These people have rather predictable tastes and rather obvious blindspots. But they're worried. Which makes them shout a bit too wildly: after all, their jobs are on the line. The other day the Daily Telegraph ran a picture story showing how a boulder had rolled down a mountainside in Italy, adding 'incredibly . . . no one was injured'. Incredibly? It reads better than 'unsurprisingly, since there was no one in its path', I suppose. And was it Liz Hurley or Thora Hird who denied she had had an affair with Bill Clinton? The madder everything gets, the less anyone needs to read any of it."

Not all news is like that, of course. Sometimes it makes things happen. We might here consider the Kampala tabloid Red Pepper, which celebrated the publication of the Ugandan anti-gay Bill by publishing a list of 200 "homos" under the heading "Exposed!" The last time a Kampala paper did this, one of their subjects was beaten to death by a patriot or patriots unknown.

That may explain why I cannot find the story on the web edition, but at least I can read the GAFCON communiqué explaining that the Bishops' pastoral letter on gay marriage "is a great encouragement to our Provinces, and indeed the rest of the Communion, especially those facing hardships and wars".

How much easier it must be to watch your family slaughtered with machetes if you don't at the same time have to worry whether a vicar in Islington is planning to marry his same-sex partner.

PERHAPS all political questions come down to asking whom it is most therapeutic to despise. For most people in England, it is obviously reassuring to despise those on benefits. Unfortunately for the Bishops, that includes most of the Anglican laity.

There was a mountain of commentary on the letter of 27 bishops, and I'll just pick some representative ones. From the Right, there was Lord Carey, writing in The Times. This is conservative in the most straightforward sense. People were better in his childhood, he thinks. But it isn't heartless, slick, or crass. In fact, it's the kindest and cleverest thing I've ever read of his: "The very poorest families in society . . . by no means all of them on benefits, because many people receive wage packets that are not enough to live on - are victims of a perfect storm.

"Rising prices, especially of food and energy, declining incomes, the breakdown of the family, welfare reforms and high levels of personal and national debt have wrecked the finances of many households. There is now no resilience in family budgets and many households are chaotic and unstable because of addictions and mental health problems.

"Even in a relatively stable home, a sudden emergency such as a broken cooker can lead to the experience of hunger. Some families, for example, frequently face the dilemma of whether to put some money on the electricity card or to buy food."

He puts blame on the breakdown of family and community networks - and, of course, on increasing levels of debt rather than just on benefit cuts. He blames the 27 bishops for concentrating on benefits to the exclusion of other things.

The Financial Times, as usual, stands to his left. "Too many benefit claimants are being subjected to unacceptably severe penalties if they commit the slightest infringement of the rules. To give one example, recent government regulations stipulate that anyone who misses an ap-pointment at a jobcentre automatically loses entitlement to Jobseekers' Allowance - their only source of independent income - for a month. More than half of all penalties imposed are for minor infractions such as this. That cannot be right.

"The thrust of [Cameron's] reform effort is socially just and economically warranted. But too many people are subjected to a sudden halt in benefit payments by tough penalties. This means that recourse to the food bank is the only way in which they can escape hunger. The bishops are right to have raised the alarm."

Over in New Jersey, the Roman Catholic Archbishop is building himself a palace while closing diocesan schools. I loved the New York Times's summary of his record: "So many leaders of the Church have served it so badly for so many decades that it's hard to keep track of their maledictions. Archbishop Myers provides one-stop shopping. He is known to insist on being addressed as 'Your Grace'. And his self-regard is matched by his refusal to apologize for more or less anything."

And people think the Church Times is cruel!

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