Sunday, 9 September 2012

Christian country? Litmus test

Ancient Israel was called to be different, an example of God's priorities, indeed God's character.
In the past few thousand years, have we learned the message of the Old Testament prophets?  There are two litmus tests for a godly nation.  One is commitment to God, not idols.  The second is social justice.  How does the UK stand up to litmus test two according to this week's news?
1.  Are we looking after the poor?  Save the Children this week starts a new campaign for children, not in Africa or South-East Asia, but in our own towns and cities.  This, in what's still one of the world's richest nations.  So yes, a charitable organization is looking after poor children here.  But how can there be poor children in a 'developed' country?  (Even if we object to the use of the word poor, as some have, it's certainly inequality.)
2.  Are we caring for the most vulnerable in society, e.g. the sick?  The sick are being told we can no longer afford to keep them.  A private company, ATOS, has the government contract to make the decision previously taken by family GPs - whether or not someone is too sick or infirm to work.  Increasingly, the weakest and most vulnerable in society are being told to earn their keep.  The mentally ill in particular are having their benefits taken off them, with ATOS assessors by their own admission under-trained in mental health.  They ask a seemingly innocuous question: Do you watch Coronation Street?  If you say you do, they conclude that your mind is clear and your concentration is good enough for a desk job.  If you're having cancer treatment and your appointment happens to be between cycles of therapy, you might just look well enough on that particular day to be told there's nothing stopping you from getting a job.  On appeal, a majority of decisions are overturned.  It seems ATOS, in order to reach targets, is hoping some won't have the fight in them to challenge their wrong decisions.

3.  Are we looking after immigrants?  No country can take in everyone who'd like to live there, or have completely open borders.  But nobody's asking the UK to.  Yet, desperate for votes and popular support, the UK coalition government has allowed the Border Agency to change and apply rules retroactively.  They don't answer questions, they make instructions deliberately ambiguous, and the government admit the agency is not fit for purpose.  Yet they are allowed to jeopardize the futures of overseas students who have paid tens of thousands of pounds in fees and poured their family's savings into the UK economy in living expenses.  Students just months away from graduating have been told, because their university London Met made mistakes (allegedly, although it's impossible not to since the Border Agency changes goalposts so often) they can't continue their studies, with immediate effect.  This is punitive, and directed at innocent victims.  Why not decide London Met can't take any more overseas students from now on, but allow current students to continue?  Because Cameron wants easy figures to wave at voters. 
We are told we can no longer afford our welfare system, yet there are more of us are paying into the system than in post-war Britain when the ravaged economy was struggling to get off the ground again.  For some, sadly, news of recession has been a great opportunity to forge more of a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest society.
When I came back from Latin America in late 2009, and news of a credit crunch was everywhere, the conclusion was that greed and unregulated capitalism were the causes of the mess, not generosity and equality.  It took very little time for the powers that be to turn that message on its head, and convince us that we can't afford to care for the poor, the sick and the immigrants among us.

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