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Letters to the Editor

31 August 2018

Prison staff recruitment, social housing, and the new student movement


Prison staff-recruitment scandal

From the Revd Patrick Morrow

Sir, — Thank you for your coverage of the crisis in HM Prison Birmingham and the Revd Jonathan Aitken’s disclosure about prison life and chaplaincy (News, 24 August). Your report highlights loss of staff posts, and the difficulties of retention of experienced personnel. Unfortunately, things are worse even than this.

An equal problem is that of recruitment, and not least of chaplains. Any staff — including chaplains — requiring the higher level of security clearance (counter-terrorism) may have to wait quite literally years from the time of receiving a conditional offer until all checks are completed. The vetting process is contracted out, and here, too, the private providers are failing to deliver — or even reply to letters from applicants.

Most people who apply for a job need a job. What is more, references from employers are taken up early in this process. So, those who are flourishing in another setting find their professional relationships destabilised, as managers expect them to be moving on soon. It follows that, on realising how long the wait is, and that the system is beyond Kafka-esque in its obscurity (“your case has been escalated to Cluster Two”, one is told, without any context to what that means), applicants look for a different job, and move on, before the checks are completed. Thus posts are permanently unfilled.

The strain that this puts on short-staffed prisons and, not least, on chaplaincies cannot be borne indefinitely. This, though it will never have the draw for journalists of rats and drugs and violence within prisons, is a national scandal in its own right.

Address supplied

Prioritise secure tenancies for homeless families 

From the Revd Paul Nicolson, Canon Nicholas Sagovsky, and four others

Sir, — Richard Darlington (Letters, 24 August) and the Bishop of Manchester (News, 17 August) are right to focus on the desperate need in the UK for social housing, which ought to include council housing.

There are more than 3000 homeless families housed by Haringey Council in temporary accommodation in the borough, and more than another 1000 housed outside the borough, according to Trust for London; but there is no policy in Haringey or the Greater London Authority to build 4000 more council homes on council land as a priority to meet the demand for truly affordable homes for the borough’s homeless.

The council makes deals for wealthy developers to profit from the inflated market prices of homes built for the private sector on council land.

Homeless families in temporary accommodation are at the mercy of greedy landlords and buy-to-let speculators. They are evicted every time a landlord wants vacant possession before selling a freehold and taking the large capital gains available from land. It is even worse for single adults hit by bedroom tax, high private rents, and poverty incomes with zero-hours contracts. They are abandoned by the government on to the streets and into hunger.

On Haringey Council’s Love Lane Estate, 300 tenants/leaseholders are being crushed by the power of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, International Property Developers Lend Lease, and the Council, who swap each permanent tenant moved out of the estate before demolition for a homeless tenant needing temporary accommodation, who is moved in — to be moved out when demolition begins. Tottenham Hotspur is building a new stadium, and a new White Hart Lane station goes with it. The Love Lane Estate is between the two. It is being demolished to make way for a new posh walkway from one to the other.

The rising incidence of English temporary accommodation, reported by the House of Commons Library, is scandalous. “The most recent official statistics, published on 27 June 2018, recorded 79,880 households in temporary accommodation at the end of March 2018. This marks the 27th time that the number of households in temporary accommodation has risen compared with the same quarter of the previous year. The 79,880 households include 123,230 children, representing a 65-per-cent increase since the first quarter of 2010. Of these households, 54,540 (68 per cent) were placed in temporary accommodation in London. The number of families with dependent children placed in B&B-style accommodation increased from 630 at the end of March 2010 to 2180 at the end of March 2018.”

We suggest that the housing priority for the Churches to press on UK national and local government must be to move the homeless families, now placed in insecure temporary accommodation by councils, into permanent and truly affordable secure tenancies in their communities, before any national or international private developer makes one more immoral £1 million out of English land.

PAUL NICOLSON, Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty; TOM BURGESS, Executive Director, The Progressive Policy Unit; FRED HARRISON, Director, The Land Research Trust; STEPHEN HILL, Churchill Fellow; PAUL REGAN, Chair, London Community Land Trust; NICHOLAS SAGOVSKY, Visiting Professor, King’s College, London
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

New student movement 

From Mr Ben Coulter

Sir, — Having recently been a Christian student at Oxford University (2012-15), I was intrigued to read the features (17 August) concerning students just starting university this autumn. I was disappointed, however, not to see Just Love included among the list of the Christian student organisations.

In 2013, a small group of Christian students started praying for God’s justice in Oxford. In just five years, Just Love has now grown to 18 growing groups in universities nationwide, inspiring and releasing students to pursue the biblical call to social justice. With a millennial generation searching for how to live ethically, this exciting movement has the potential to connect powerfully with new students and put their faith into action alongside a whole new group of friends pursuing the same call. It certainly did with me.

Just Love Alumnus
Trinity College
Stoke Hill, Stoke Bishop
Bristol BS9 1JP

A-bombs did not shorten the Second World War 

From the Revd Christopher Griffiths

Sir, — It is deeply disturbing to see the use of nuclear weapons defended in the Church Times (Letters, 24 August). Weapons that, by their very nature, indiscriminately slaughter thousands of civilians if used, and wreak ecological havoc, cannot ever be morally justified.

The notion that these weapons hastened the end of the Second World War is a convenient myth that serves to legitimise obscene levels of spending on nuclear armaments by governments. The truth, according to the United States’ own Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, is that “even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.”

Christians everywhere, and anyone who cares about human life on earth, should join the General Synod in calling for nuclear weapons to be abolished.

The Rectory, Manor Lane
Horringer, Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP29 5PY

Don’t let objections to Graham harm mission 

From the Revd Paul Eddy

Sir, — Vasantha Gnanadoss is concerned (Letters, 24 August) that the Bishop of Blackburn has not publicly said whether he supports Franklin Graham’s visit from 21 to 23 September.

Whether he does, I do not know. But what the Bishop is possibly balancing up is that the Festival of Hope, the mission that invited Mr Graham to preach, is a uniting of nearly 200 churches of all denominations. This unity has not been seen in this area, in this way, before.

I was involved in Mission England and on the National Advisory Committee for the Billy Graham Live-Link Relays. Besides the preaching of the gospel — which is a significant opportunity for people to turn to Christ — the Graham missions unite and focus local churches on our primary task of disciple-making in a unique way. That focus and unity remain, decades after the mission is formally over.

Over the past year, hundreds of local Christians in Lancashire have been meeting with their brothers and sisters from different churches to learn from two courses: Christian Life and Witness, and Caring for/Nurturing New Believers. This intentional focus is what, I would suggest, the wider Church needs at this time.

I may not personally agree with the way in which Mr Graham junior expresses his beliefs, as I suspect the Bishop doesn’t either. But the bigger picture here is that the Festival of Life is a strategic and intentional vision to unite the Church in purpose, and to see hundreds come to a living faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes we need to ensure that the main thing remains the main thing.

The Vicarage, Church Green
Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire SN7 8HU

Chavasse-twins play was Edinburgh draw 

From the Rt Revd Geoff Pearson

Sir, — For the second year running, I am disappointed that in your review of the Edinburgh Fringe (Arts, 24 August), there is no mention of the group from Blackburn Creative Arts. Their production, Brothers in Arms, written by Canon David Banbury, played to sell-out audiences.

The Chavasse twins’ inspiring story was particularly appropriate in commemorating the centenary of the First World War. The organisers certainly were struck by the popularity of this small but gifted group.

10 Elderswood, Rainhill
Merseyside L35 4QY

Religious-studies A level deserves its decline 

From Mr Robert Leach

Sir, — You report “deep concern” that there has been a 20-per-cent decline in exams for religious studies (News, 24 August). My concern is that 80 per cent consider this worthless exam worth sitting.

It is based on the erroneous assumption that all religious belief is merely opinion. Christian truth is considered no better than the teachings of other religions. It is the only subject where we do not teach what we believe to be the truth.

If the same principle were applied to other subjects, geography students would be allowed to say that the earth was flat, and the chemistry syllabus would include alchemy spells to turn lead into gold.

19 Chestnut Avenue, Ewell
Epsom, Surrey KT19 0SY

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