The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has given his backing to The Press Stamp Out Poverty campaign. Today, he stresses the need for a united front in order to protect society’s most vulnerable.
Earlier this month, as Julia Unwin and I launched the Living Wage rate for the UK here in York, I said that we all needed to pull in the same direction and begin a process to make a society fairer for all.
I am glad that The Press is picking up that baton today and hope that everyone will give their full support to eradicating poverty.
The Church has frequently been at the heart of standing up against injustice and unfairness. For example, back in 1986 we published the “Faith In The City” report examining the devastating effect of the recession on our cities, and set up a national network to help all our churches work with those who were experiencing poverty and injustice.
In 2006, I was vice chair of the Commission On Urban Life and Faith’s “Faithful Cities”, which built on this earlier work.
More recently, it was my privilege to sponsor the Fairness Commission in York where we brought together the finest minds from business, the public sector, charities and other organisations, as well as our local residents, to set out how we could best protect the poor and vulnerable in our most deprived areas.
Times are very tough and only likely to get tougher. We are deluding ourselves to think that when our council has to make annual savings of £20 million because of central Government cuts that there will not be an effect on frontline services – not unless those that are better off put their hand in their pockets to help those in need at the bottom. That’s the reality. We need to stop pointing the finger at each other and instead look for practical answers.
It is easy to start the blame game when we look at inequality in society, but there are no easy solutions. No-one can wave a magic wand. The whole point of the Fairness Commission was for us all to come together as a community, with the council included, and say: “Look, what is important to us – and how are we going to fund it?”
Of course, having quality affordable housing is a big part of tackling poor living standards. There isn’t enough of it – and we need to build more. But where do we build it, and will building it have a detrimental effect on our environment?
There are about 4,800 people on our local authority’s housing list – if we believe that all deserve appropriate housing provision, then investment must come and space be found to develop these new affordable homes.
If we do not build them, then we must realise that there is a social consequence to that inaction.
These are big questions that need addressing – and it is not just York which faces them. We need jobs, living wages, good homes and decent services.
We need to ensure we have proper regional investment. We need to see jobs coming to the north of England. We need to see people being paid at least a living wage so they can support their families and not rely on the State.
One in five people in the UK who is in work is not paid a Living Wage – and when you look at the figures, you can see that six out of ten families in the UK living in poverty have at least one adult in paid work. Let us not pretend the problem is solely to do with worklessness.
Talking about the struggles faced by the working poor has become a social taboo. We would prefer to pretend that the problem wasn’t there – but sadly it is. It is a very grim reality that needs addressing urgently by all of us.
We also need proper welfare provision for those in genuine need.
All of this comes at a price – and I believe that everyone should be contributing, but especially those at the top.
Let’s all pay our fair share and really lift standards for everyone in our society. Let’s invest in each other.
Research has conclusively shown that a more equal society is a happier society – and I always say that you can judge how healthy a society is by how it treats the most vulnerable people. We need to recognise we have a responsibility and duty to our neighbour. This is why the York Press campaign to tackle poverty is so important.
What we must ask is, do we want to live in a society where inequality and suffering is ingrained, or would we rather send out a message of the Christian Virtue of Hope – that everyone is valued and has an important part to play?
At Christmas, we often ask people to think about giving to people living in poverty, but this is not about short-term generosity – it is about tackling the unfair structures which perpetually keep some people at the bottom and prevent them from escaping poverty.
Our responsibility is not just one of pulling drowning people out of the bottom of the river, but to stop whoever or whatever is pushing them into the river in the first place.
At Christmas we should remember that Jesus of Nazareth’s mother, Mary, responded to the Angel Gabriel’s message in a song of thankfulness for God’s regard for the lowly and the hungry. Her child would be the hope of the world, and especially of those living in poverty.
I want to thank the York Press for having the vision to ask these difficult questions and for you as readers for engaging with them. Let us embrace hope and ensure York is a city of which everyone can be proud.