Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Sheep and the Goats and the Bishops

Church of England bishops have descended en masse upon the Governments Welfare Reform Bill, and its plan to cap household benefits at £500. A joint letter to the Observer spells out their concern at the impact upon children:

While 70,000 adults are likely to be affected by the cap, the Children's Society has found that it is going to cut support for an estimated 210,000 children, leaving as many as 80,000 homeless. The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.

This is about as trenchant as the men in purple get, (though I can think of a couple of outspoken exceptions!) Five amendments have been tabled by the bishops, to be debated in the Lords this week. Here's the original response from the Childrens Society to the proposals.

It may just be that that good bishops have been taking their sermon preparation seriously this week. Todays set reading for CofE services is Matthew 25:31-46, the 'sheep and goats' picture of the judgement scene. The criteria for separation between the rightous sheep and the excluded goats is acts of compassion towards the vulnerable. Strictly speaking, it's acts of sacrificial service to fellow Christians, but the principle extends beyond the church (e.g. the parable of the good Samaritan) to any neighbour in need.

As James says, there's no point talking about faith unless it issues in action. There's no point talking about justice unless you do something about it. At times I wonder whether bishops in the Lords is a bit of a luxury for the CofE and an anachronism for the state. But I'm happy to suspend that thought for this week.

At the other end of the age range, if you want to help older people, and have the means to do so, and are over-65, then donate your Winter Fuel Payment to the Surviving Winter appeal. Because it's not means tested, the payment goes to all pensioners, whether they need it or not, and this campaign is a great way to help to target this money at those who need it. "I was cold, and you paid my fuel bill."

update: the BBC has also picked up the story.

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