THE Prime Minister has issued a firm rebuttal of the picture of
Britain painted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in which "many
cities are left feeling abandoned and hopeless".
It is suggested by Archbishop Welby that entire regions of
the country are trapped in an apparently inescapable economic
downward spiral. He refers to "a tale of two cities", and argues
that turning the tide will come only through a commitment to
"The hard truth is that [many cities and towns where there is
long-term decline] are in what appear to be lose-lose situations,"
he says. "Already in decline, the road towards recovery and growth
is made even more difficult. . . As the south-east grows, many
cities are left feeling abandoned and hopeless."
His reflections come in a book, On Rock or Sand?, to be
launched at Westminster on Tuesday. It comes from a symposium of
economists, social thinkers, contemporary historians, and
theologians, invited in 2010 by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu,
to reflect on some of the pressing challenges of the day in the
context of increasing social dysfunction and in the wake of the
Dr Sentamu's own contribution says that politicians who
often refer to "hard-working families" should speak instead of
"hard-pressed families". He refers to the "blight of increasing
poverty in a land of plenty".
On Thursday, the Prime Minister said that he "profoundly
disagrees" with the picture painted by the Archbishops.
"I've never complained about the church for getting involved in
political issues, they have a perfect right to speak out," Mr
Cameron told the Daily Telegraph.
"I just happen to think, and I haven't seen this report in all
its detail so I will study it, but from an early reading of The
Daily Telegraph I profoundly disagree with some of the things that
they are saying."
"Far from leaving cities behind, we're rebalancing the economy
and you can see real growth in cities like Birmingham and
Manchester and Leeds - indeed some two-thirds over the last year
has come from outside London and the South East. And some of the
places where jobs are growing fastest and apprenticeships are
growing fastest, where exports are growing fastest are not in
London or the South East."
He went on: "We are tackling poverty by giving 1.75 million
more people a job in our country. Actually under this Government
inequality has fallen so I don't think the picture they paint is
"I look forward to debating and discussing it with them. They
have a right to speak out as long as they don't mind when I speak
pretty vigorously in defence of the excellent economic and social
record of this government.
"The fact is you can't do any of these things in terms of
tackling poverty, growing opportunity, rebalancing the economy
unless you have a strong economy and we have restored or are
restoring the strength of the British economy."
Both Archbishops refer to the importance of solidarity.
Archbishop Welby speaks of "a society built and lived on the
principles of the inherent dignity of the person, outside and
beyond any economic value, and of the commonality of the human
journey". Declaring the economic crisis to be fundamentally a
theological problem, he calls for a reclamation of the Christian
definition of solidarity for the common good.
Dr Sentamu refers to the common good as a "quest for a big
vision, moral and practical", in which "everyone needs to be
involved or it won't work." The Church urgently needs to provide
reflection on how the social compact can be refashioned in ways
that make sense in the light of today's serious social and economic
Politicians and the electoral system come under fire from Ruth
Fox, director and head of research of the Hansard Society. She
identifies "a damaging 'anti-politics' mood" gnawing away at the
democratic roots of society, which, if left unchecked, "threatens
to cast doubt on the legitimacy of representative politics,
regardless of whichever party may be in power in the future".
Politics, she says, is "increasingly reduced to a marketing game
where each side offers up promises to the public but rarely engages
in open and forthright debate about the negotiations and
compromises that are required to achieve those promises".
Ultimately, "nothing will change unless politicians change
[both] their approach to the values and ethics that should underpin
politics and their own personal conduct in the future, and how they
go about politics itself, adopting a more values-based approach,
stressing moral choices in pursuit of a more distinct vision for
the organisation of our society."
Christian values could shape the approach to managing the
economy and operating within it, suggests Andrew Sentence, formerly
an external member of the Monetary Commission of the Bank of
England. "We cannot hope to hold back the global tides which are
shaping our economy. But we can seek to mould the way in which our
economy is responding to them," he says, setting out sustainable
growth, shared prosperity, and responsible business as the
principles that should guide the way ahead.
The changing face of poverty is assessed by Julia Unwin, chief
executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree
Housing Trust. The income from work, always prescribed as the best
and safest route out of poverty, now provides no such assurance for
many people, she says.
All the main political parties currently approach the provision
of "welfare" based on a critical and non-evidence based assumption,
she says, "that, unless the receipt of help is made as unpleasant
as possible, poor people will always opt not to work. . .
"The current sanctions regime is the latest manifestation of an
approach that tries to mould behaviour through the provision of
benefits. At heart, it is based on the view that the motivations of
poor people are entirely other than those which drive the rest of
us. While all systems of public support have conditions attached to
them, it is new for the UK to have institutionalised the ability to
withdraw all obvious means of financial support for failure to
comply with regulations."
The Revd Professor Oliver O'Donovan, until recently Professor of
Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of
Edinburgh, reflects that three aspects of work - material, social,
and spiritual - are all bound up together. Andrew Adonis, a former
head of the No. 10 Policy Unit, highlights youth unemployment as
something that "blights communities and stigmatises individuals
with a sense of worthlessness and failure". It marks a failure by
society to provide the conditions which can enable full human
flourishing, and "will not be eradicated by waving a magic
Kirsten England, chief executive of York Council, reflects on
health and well-being in Britain, arguing that the UK approach is
neither equitable nor sustainable, and highlighting huge
disparities. Life expectancy varies dramatically and the faultline
is socio-economic, she suggests.
She lauds, as do many of the contributors, the increasing number
of local authorities adopting the Living Wage (LW). "The experience
of the introduction of the LW is that it lifts self-esteem,
workforce morale and organisational productivity as well as
enabling people to live decently," she says, calling for a
re-energised debate about the kind of society families want to live
in; concerted work to strengthen community life and well-being in
neighbourhoods across the nation; sustained work to redesign the
delivery of health and social-care services; and national action to
tackle the unequal distribution of health and well-being.
Canon James Woodward, of St George's Chapel, Windsor, reflects
on whether ageing is a blessing or a burden. He calls for "a
fundamental change in how we as a society think and feel about old
age", and emphasises: "We should not confuse old with poor. Those
who are poor are rarely poor because they are old: they are poor
now because they were poor when they were younger, unable either to
accumulate assets or pension rights to draw upon in later
Sir Philip Mawer, a former Secretary General of the General
Synod and later Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards, reflects
that an election is an opportunity to take stock, in a fundamental
way, of the direction of society and the values informing its
He describes the book as "about Faith, Hope and Love (or
Charity)", and says that as he writes, he "can almost detect the
sceptics reaching for their pens". But he contends that, if the
required transformation in the nature and style of representative
democracy is to be achieved, the voice of those who speak from a
position of religious faith cannot sensibly be excluded from the
"This is not only for the pragmatic reason that religious belief
(sometimes more, sometimes less), coherently articulated, is still
an important component in the lives of many citizens and that faith
communities fulfil important functions within our society. It is
also because one of the core components of the life of faith is the
attempt to model that life on clear ethical values."
Dr Sentamu has recorded a
video publicising the book and arguing why the Church should
get involved in politics.