Friday, September 28, 2012

What's Wrong with This Agenda?

Thinking Anglicans have kindly published the agenda for Novembers General Synod:

GENERAL SYNOD: NOVEMBER 2012
Timetable
Monday 19 November
2.15pm – 7 pm
Worship and formal business
Report by the Business Committee
Anglican Consultative Council meeting: presentation and questions
Anglican Communion Covenant: Report on the Reference to Dioceses
Questions
[brief evening worship]
Tuesday 20 November
9.15 am – 1 pm
9.15 am Holy Communion
10.30 am Legislative Business:
Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and Draft Amending Canon No.30
2.30 pm – 7 pm
Legislative Business:
Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of women) Measure and Draft Amending Canon No.30 – continued
[brief evening worship]
Wednesday 21 November
9.30 am – 1 pm
Worship
Diocesan Synod Motion: Southwell and Nottingham: Amendment to Canon B 12 and Regulations
Private Member’s Motion: John Freeman: Living Wage
Dates of groups of sessions in 2013
2.30 – 5.30pm
Farewells
Youth unemployment
Farewell to the Archbishop of Canterbury
Contingency business:
Report of the Standing Orders Committee

A question: would you guess, from looking at the above, that it's the agenda of the main decision making body of a church which is consistently declining in numbers, is facing a game-changing drop in its levels of staffing, and has committed during the current Synod to prioritising church growth and mission?

No, me neither. If there's any synod members out there who are looking at this and scratching their heads too, perhaps you could use the question time to remind Synod of our membership stats, or to ask at what point we are going to take the same steps as the Church in Wales and start to refit the CofE for the 21st century. Otherwise the final task of the first female Archbishop of Canterbury will be to turn out the lights.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

20 Tips to Keep Your Church Safe from Visitors



we all know this (don't we?) but still..... Love number 12

for a different approach, which gets everyone in the church involved in realising this stuff and dealing with it, the Everybody Welcome course by Bob Jackson is excellent.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Parable of the Sower (Lego remix)


A bit rough round the edges, but I really like this, hoping to use it on Sunday if I can work out how to download the thing. Love the Star Wars stormtrooper appearing in the crowd of Jesus hearers.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Church Growth Research Programme Website

Parishes % Chart

Good to see the brand new Church Growth Research Programme website up and running. This is a new initiative with in the CofE (yes, honestly), running for 18 months, and alongside new research in church growth in the Anglican setting there's quite a bit of material on the site already. There will be early findings published by the end of this year, and the full programme of reporting will be done in just over 12 months. There are various specialist strands - cathedrals, fresh expressions, church planting, team ministries - alongside more general data and parish profiling.

I'm glad to see this taking shape, and that it's going to get going so quickly. I hope that space is made on General, Diocesan and Deanery Synods to discuss the findings over the next 18 months.

New Exams Announced

In a new policy annoucement, English school exams are to be deregulated and offered out to sponsorship. A number of early candidates have already been submitted:

Backtrackalaureat: a new exam proposed by the Libdems. It doesn't matter how many answers you get wrong, as long as you apologise for them 2 years later.

Back a Laureate: sponsored by Paddy Power, this qualification combines poetry, maths and online gambling. Would suit anyone planning a career in the stock market.

English Back A Lorry Out: HGV qualification, sponsored by Eddie Stobart, designed for EU immigrant workers who are only used to driving on the right.

Bacolaureat: Sponsored by aluminium manufacturers Alcan, coursework consists entirely of covering objects of varying shapes and sizes with aluminium foil. Narrowly edged out the Tupperlaureat for the final shortlist.

EBacc Gum: course on food science and regional stereotyping with Jamie Oliver and Geoff Boycott.

The Alan Sugar School of Initiative and Business Integrity: stuff it, skip the exam, make up a qualification and we'll hire you anyway. Show me the money!

Xam Factor: exams done in front of a crowd of screaming teenagers, a weeping diva in a miniskirt, and an Irish guy who gives you 500% in everything. Only one person can pass each year, but 11 others get to tell their story to background music, qualifying them for an NVQ level 2 in Manipulative Media Narrative.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Autotuning Confession



Why do we confess to wrongdoing? Some options.
1. Because we're genuinely sorry for them.
2. Because we want to restore a relationship broken by the wrongdoing
3. Because we think we might become more popular by doing so.
4. To try to change people's perceptions of us.
5. Because we know God wants us to.

Who should we confess to?
1. Everyone
2. God
3. The people we've wronged
4. The people we've wronged, and everyone else who's got upset because someone got wronged, even if it wasn't them.

How should we confess?
1. In private, one to one.
2. On TV
3. By saying sorry, but not necessarily for the thing people think we should be sorry for. (e.g. 'I'm sorry if you took offence' rather than 'I'm sorry I offended you'. Though I suspect some people are just an offence waiting to be taken)
4. By saying we'll never break another promise again (which begs the question...)

I mentioned Nick Clegg in the introduction to our Confession this morning - there's a first time for everything. All of us have got stuff to say sorry for, but politicians mistakes are made to more people, and about more people, than my petty sins-in-a-corner.

One of the sequals to Gary Chapmans brilliant '5 love languages' is the 5 languages of apology. Chapman suggests that we have a range of ways of giving and receiving apologies. It's probably a bit too neat, fitting the profile of Chapmans 5 love languages, but the blurb suggests  the five basic languages of apology (are): expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness.

There's something behind the Catholic notion of penance, that even though forgiveness is freely granted by God, restitution is part of repentance. That idea is carried through in restorative justice, that part of justice is the offender doing something for the victim, rather than simply being punished.

Politicians are aware that actions speak louder than words, but there comes a point where the actions are no longer heard, because the words in the narrative are so fixed and given that everything else is heard through the story they tell. No amount of restoration is enough. Part of the political game is to bid publicly for the controlling narrative - win that contest, and you're sorted. The Libdems can apologise until they are blue in the face and work their socks off for the poor and disadvantaged for the next 30 months, but many have already bought the story that they sold out for power, and nothing will move them.

But it would be a shame if Clegg's apology were simply a political manoevre. Politicians being what they are, that's what it's seen as. At its most basic, this could simply be a bit of political calculation - nothing to lose, now lets see what the other leaders have got to apologise for. Next up, but not much better, is being sorry for being found out. "I'm sorry we didn't get away with it" is the rough translation. Next up from that is what the message seems to say, is that he's sorry for making the original pledge. Some of this might be a genuine confession of weakness, making the pledge to keep people in the party happy when he didn't actually believe in it. It's a failure of integrity. But it did win him a lot of votes....

I just hope that the language and practice of apology, repentance and confession doesn't become debased by all of this. There is a modern fad for confessing and apologising for things we had nothing to do with: the slave trade, the crusades etc. On one level that's ok: there is such a thing as corporate guilt and responsibility, which is borne even by those who aren't responsible themselves (look at Daniels prayers of confession). But should genuine confession for these things then go hand in hand with some form of reparation? There is a certain amount of emotional tourism in our society - we seem to like getting upset, or angry, or apologetic, on behalf of people who until yesterday we had nothing to do with, and whose lives never intersect with our own. We naturally do this with film and drama anyway, it's more troubling to see that spilling over into real life.

If saying sorry becomes detached from actually being sorry, repentant, then we are in trouble. Because at its heart apology and confession is not about me, the wrongdoer, assuaging my conscience. It is about you, the wronged, being recognised, and recieving what is due to you. If we manipulate the language of confession, we devalue all those we are apologising to.

It's a vain hope, perhaps, but it would be great if we all found it came a bit more naturally to say sorry, and to be sorry, and we all agreed that it didn't demonstrate weakness to do so. It takes much more strength of character to make apology and restitution than it does to make excuses.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wow



Some simply staggering beauty on show at the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012, and a lovely slideshow on the BBC site to go with it.

Wacky BaccE?

With the resumption of the political football season, education is getting the usual kicking around. Michael Gove's announcement of the scrapping of GCSE's for an exam-based EBacc (if it's English, why not use an English word for it?); Nick Clegg's apology over tuition fees, and strong words from the Bishop of Oxford about the marking fiasco this summer.

An O-level style, final exam system bases success on a number of skills:
 - accumulating knowledge
 - short term memory
 - ability to think clearly under stress
 - exam technique (e.g. spotting questions)

one friend at theological college went into his exams armed with 6 7-letter words, an acronym for each question which was likely to turn up. It worked, he got a first.

I've been mulling over whether continuous assesment or a final test is more Biblical. Probably neither/both: the bible does talk about a final judgement, some kind of test where everything is evaluated. At the same time there is continuous assesment - Jesus continuously reviews his ministry and priorities in prayer, the Psalmist asks God to search his heart.

More Christian thinkers and leaders are writing about discipleship, and best practice in discipleship - for the development of skills, character and holiness - is about 'a long obedience in the same direction'. The church has centuries of experience of 'continuous assesment', though whether the confessional, or the daily examen of Ignatius, produced the fruit of holiness is questionable. Methodists had their class meetings to help one another grow in Christian virtues.

It all depends what we want to happen in education. If it's merely about knowledge and fact retention, exams are fine (up to a point). But what about growth in skills and character? Instruments are learned through regular practice, tutorials, and a series of grade exams, it's the same with sporting skills like swimming and gymnastics. Together with those go the character qualities of patience, perseverance, coping with success and failure. On the one hand it will be good to remove from students the pressure of continuous assesment, some learning is best done in a more leisurely way, rather than cramming facts in order to pass a test/assignment. But continuous assesment also gives the opportunity to develop skills and character in a way that exams don't.

I've recently become a 'Training Minister' on STETS, a local training course for church leaders in the CofE, Methodists and elsewhere. I've been impressed by their course structure - the academic is integrated with personal spiritual disciplines and growth in character. All three are addressed together. This is a million miles from the segmentation of my own training in the 1990s, where character and holiness issues were hardly ever addressed. And guess what? Most of the ministers dropping out of parish life, year in year out, are doing so not because they can't do the job, but because of character and personal issues.

One other thought: as a political football education is now much bigger than it was, as successive governments have tried to wrestle children from their parents at an earlier and earlier age. This is partly to get parents back into the job market, and partly to offer a better environment for growing up than some of the more troubled homes. Parenting is being progressively nationalised. But children still go home at the end of the day, and parents are still the prime educators. There shouldn't be a rigid division of labour between home and school (facts at school, character at home), but it's hard to build a partnership approach without a shared public ethos of what a good life and a whole person actually looks like.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lets Go Buy A Pipe

If you've ever looked at a metal organ pipe and thought 'you know what, I would just love to have one of those in my house', then now's your chance. Our creaky church organ has drawn its last breath, and we're looking forward to its digital replacement arriving next month.

One or two Tweeters expressed an interest in these, so here's a picture, drop me a line if you'd like one, reasonable offers all accepted. I must stress that the organ is now in pieces, so it's individual pipes we're selling.

And yes, here I am on my pionnering, ground-breaking mission blog with a picture of a church organ. It's so humiliating I feel like a Libdem leader giving a public apology.

Though (tenuous mission link) clearing out the organ loft will, in the longer term, give us room for an extra 20 people, and a possible meeting room. In a church that only seats 90 before it gets uncomfy, that'll be quite a help.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Town Called Mercy: Atonement 101

Catching up with the latest Doctor Who on Iplayer, and what a brilliant episode. Cowboys versus Aliens, but done well. And at the heart of it, a superb meditation on violence, revenge, redemption, atonement and justice.

Part of my staple childhood diet was Westerns, I would go round chewing spent matchsticks pretending to be Clint Eastwood (and fail just as badly as the Doctor does in Mercy). The plot was always the same: baddies do something bad, ride around scowling and looking swarthy. Good guy (usually Lone Good Guy) has showdown with bad guys and shoots them dead. Justice = revenge.

So Doctor Who plunged straight into this moral maze and asked a lot of questions of it. At the centre of the plot is Jex, an alien doctor, a war criminal, who has landed in a Western town, saved it from a cholera epidemic and introduced it to electricity. He saved the town. But now he is being hunted down by a cyborg gunslinger, who wants to bring him to justice for his past crimes, i.e. shoot him. The Doctor ends up embroiled in all of this, and is pulled in all directions:

First, he looks to hand doctor Jex over to the cyborg, one man dying to save the village: 'When did killing someone become an option?' asks Amy, not unreasonably. The Doctor replies with an outburst that might become one of this generation's 'do you remember?' moments in years to come: 'Every time I negotiate, I try to understand. Not today. No, today, I honour the victims. His, The Masters', The Daleks'. All the people who died because of my mercy.'

then later tries to save him, and eventually Jex takes his fate into his own hands. Along the way are several nods to faith: the village gathers to pray whilst the Doctor tries to save them from the cyborg, and Jex speaks of what he expects after he dies, that he will have to climb a mountain, carrying the souls of all the people that he's killed. In a nice contrast to the usual run of things, his faith and religious worldview is part of the plot, rather than seen as a mania.

There are longer and more thoughtful reviews at:
Shadowlocked
From the North
Exploring our Matrix

and A Town Called Mercy leaves lots of questions hanging:
 - is revenge justice?
 - is it possible to atone for past wrongs, and who gets to decide when you've managed it?
 - is justice done to us after death, and does this make a difference to the justice we mete out to the living?
 - are there different moral rules in war?
 - if mercy results in more people dying, because you were compassionate to someone who went on to do more evil, then is it better to be ruthless?
 - (at a wider level) how far has the Western/American view of justice been drip-fed into our culture via film and media, and how far does it inform US views of justice and foreign policy, and by extension our own? Do we base decisions on a robust morality of justice, or a more emotive desire to avenge?
 - Can you run a society purely on mercy?
 - (from the last couple of minutes of the episode) how do you decomission people? The Gunslinger, built to be a weapon of war, can't see a purpose to his life beyond killing. The Doctor recommissions him to be an 'angel' of peace, watching over the town and protecting it. I once had a conversation with a former soldier, who remarked that life post-army was a struggle, compared to the level of camaraderie and intensity of life in the battlefield. There didn't seem to be a peacetime purpose which made him feel alive in the same way.

Great stuff.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How to Encourage Your Congregation

Two of our church members told me today they were encouraged by something I'd said in my sermon yesterday. My ears pricked up, my encouragement-o-meter revved into gear, I prepared myself for the life-changing revelation that my inspired words had brought about.

It turned out that the most encouraging part of yesterday morning was the bit where I talked about my struggles to pray: my prayer routines falling apart during the summer holidays, and that often I couldn't remember what I'd been reading in the Bible within 5 minutes of putting the book down.

Many years ago I heard someone preaching on 'fellowship in weakness', and he observed that it's very hard to get close to someone who's good at everything. It's actually our weaknesses that open us up to each other, make us human and approachable. Sometimes our best role models are people who fail well.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

topless royals

I really can't see what all the fuss is about












now ask yourself, why did you click on this link?

SPCK vs Society of St Stephen the Great: the end.

Phil Groom reports the closing of the book on the sorry case of the Society of St. Stephen the Great, and their destruction of what used to be SPCK bookshops. Full background at the SPCK/SSG blog, (and an update based on the SPCK statement) for those who remember this ongoing campaign. SPCK statement here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Nativity Factor promo

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Odd Silences

Odd Silence 1: there is normally a rapid response unit at WATCH and Reform (CofE lobby groups) to any statement on women bishops by the Men in Purple. At the time of writing, despite a meeting and press release yesterday there are no press statements by either group. I must say I'm delighted, well done everyone, I've wondered aloud before whether the debate was being taken over by the lobby groups, and whether it might be better if they went quiet and just let people pray and listen to each other. Could this actually be happening? Or is it that, like me, they don't actually know what the latest amendment really means?

(Update: it couldn't last, there is now a statement from WATCH, oddly it's on their Facebook page, though still no sign of it on their website. But nobody should read it, you can make up your own mind without someone else doing it for you)

Odd Silence 2: having kept Gordon Browns 'bigots' comment hanging over his head for the rest of the election campaign, the BBC have gone strangely quiet on Nick Clegg. Not a peep in the Politics section of their website since Tuesdays row, despite a letter of apology to church leaders in the meantime. Ok, he didn't actually say the word, but it could easily have been made into a running story, a 'beleaguered Clegg' ahead of the party conference.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pitching a script for the next series of Rev.

Spotted in Salisbury today: a couple of vicars searching in vain around the Park and Ride for the car they'd arrived in earlier that day, whilst at the same time wondering why it was so hard to get their bearings. Followed 5 minutes later by the realisation that they'd caught the wrong bus and were at the wrong Park and Ride. Then having to explain all this to the bus driver who'd been watching them with increasing amusement, and again to the driver when they finally took the right bus, since the ticket had already been punched. "I'll believe you" he said "after all, nobody would admit to that if it wasn't true."

Cut to the 2nd Park and Ride 15 minutes later, and both vicars emerging from the car, locking it, waiting for 30 seconds, unlocking it, and getting back in again. Several buttons are pushed in different orders to try to get the electronic starter to work, until they give up and consult the object of ultimate masculine failure, the Instruction Sheet. What kind of car needs an A4 instruction sheet on how to start the engine? What kind of driver needs an A4...... as training ministers for 2 future CofE clergy, it's good to know that the future of Anglicanism is safe in our hands. I mean, their hands.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The gospel according to Star Trek

Over at the Transpositions blog is a recent series on Star Trek and the Christian faith. Avid Trekkies will understand more of it than I do, but if you're interested in whether Spock is a Christ figure, and how the humanism of Star Trek challenges and converses with the gospel, then it might be worth a peek. 

I've long wondered if, in the absence of a shared public faith, the genre of science fiction and fantasy is the easiest place for us to process our spiritual ideas. (We use soap operas to process morality.) The Force, Neo, the end of the world in its various forms (End of Days, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon), Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, are all stuffed full of common religious themes, many overtly Christian, but take them in different directions. Recent Doctor Who's have a clunky 'Daleks as fundamentalists' subplot, making the most destructive and vicious creatures in the universe also the most religious. And there's those 'angels': maybe a more avid sci-fi fan than myself can blog on whether Doctor Who carries on where Star Trek left off.

Monday, September 10, 2012

RE:THINK BBC religion and ethics conference: can God be slotted?

The BBC are hosting a religion and ethics conference later this week, featuring Richard Dawkins, Jonathan Sacks, and a range of seminars and talks on ethical and religious topics. Looks fascinating, and there's a good interview with the new(ish) head of Religon and Ethics here. Aquil Ahmed will be debating the 'God slot' on Wednesday, and had this to say in the interview:

He will make it clear that he wants the corporation’s religious programmes to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, including atheists.

While he will retain traditional religious programmes such as Songs of Praise, he will increasingly commission shows that deal with faith in broader contexts, such as Dead Good Job, an observational series starting this week about the work of undertakers across different religious communities and people no faith.

He said: “When we say 'rethinking the God slot’, it is to say there’s probably a lot more religion on television than people realise, it’s just not classed in the old-fashioned sense as, 'it is at this time, therefore it’s a God slot kind of programme’.

“The old fashioned concept of, 'it’s Sunday, it’s this time of day, every channel has got some kind of programme about Christianity’...those days are gone.

“People are fascinated by religion and you don’t have to know that you’re watching a specific programme about religion.”

The whole idea of a God slot is nonsense anyway, God doesn't fit into a slot, everything else slots into God. To confine spiritual content to Songs of Praise and Thought for the Day has an implicit dualism. I guess Christians have wanted to protect these 'slots' because they feared that, without them, God would disappear completely from the airwaves.

Far from it: when things have calmed down a bit there's probably a dissertation to be written on religious symbolism and content in the Olympic ceremonies, from the hymns in the Olympic opening event, to the overt pagan symbolism in the closing ceremony yesterday. The BBC conference itself suggest that, the less religious we get as a nation, the more we want to think about religion. It's a time of flux, it's not just the goalposts that are moving but all the pitch markings too. So we can expect plenty more debate about where the lines should eventually fall.

Parachurch

All the excitement at the weekend reminded me of this cartoon by Jon Birch. Personally speaking the Paralympics has been quite an education, one of the minor gems was the #isitokto hashtag from Channel 4's late night show The Last Leg, on what it's ok or not ok to do or say around disability.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

So much for the Local Plan

According to a story in todays Western Gazette, one observation by one planning inspector is threatening to spanner the whole planning process for South Somerset. The local council has spent years trying to develop a local plan which, ironically, has had most opposition from people suggesting it over-estimated the need for new housing. A government inspector has now announced she reckons they're 5000 homes short. There's speculation that it could lead to a development free-for-all in the area.

Personally I'd rather have the Council leading the process of building and developing new communities, with suitable planning for facilities, infrastructure etc. (even if they have made a mess of this at times in the past), rather than a developer or (in Yeovils case) an Oxford college, whose prime concern will be maximising revenue. They don't have to live with the consequences, we do.

Maybe East Coker will suddenly swing behind the council plan now, if this is the alternative. I just find it bizarre that one comment from one government official could create such disruption and uncertainty.

All this on the day the government announces plans to loosen up planning laws so as to jump-start the housing market. With average prices still 9-10 times the average income, I really can't see any planning reform making that happen. 15 years ago, prices were only 3x the average income. At the same time, they're cutting the requirment for social housing, as waiting lists grow and (with the changes to housing benefit) this is only going to get worse. Unless the homeless are all going to lodge in these new conservatories that the middle classes will build, I really can't see the logic of the proposals.

There is a case for making things quicker - I'm aware of a couple of local cases where Somerset County Council's involvement has slowed things down considerably. But it would be better to bring everything under one planning authority, rather than scrap the planning rules entirely.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Ebuzzing rankings for September (i.e. August), and other stuff

Until Ebuzzing fix their data collection I'm not going to do any more full run-downs, but if you're interested in exploring other blogs, or in where you are in the blog pickers top 20, the latest Ebuzzing rankings for Religion and Belief are out. Mildly amused that the top 2 are an atheist blog, and a Christian apologetics blog, I wonder if they communicate with each other. Also good to see Lay Anglicana in the top 10 for the first time.

In other list news, the Church of England is now doing a daily rundown of media coverage, well done to Arun Arora, new Head of Comms, for setting this up. It would be good to have a 'subscribe' button but hopefully that's on the way.

If that's got you all too excited, there's also a press release on the next bishops gathering to tie themselves in knots over women bishops. Anyone who can read this at one sitting and understand it has been spending too much time in WATCH meetings. Actually I think the best thing for now would be for the various pressure groups to observe a public vow of silence until the end of the year, so that we can work this out as Christians rather than as lobbyists.

Poverty, House and Home

Nationally, Save the Children have just launched their first appeal to support UK children in poverty, with 3.5m and rising believed to be below the poverty line. And there's plenty more to come, the following has just come through from South Somerset District Council - government grants towards Council Tax are being reduced, and our area is losing £1.3m. This is on top of a whole swathe of other benefit cuts coming down the line, on housing benefit, rent levels etc.

The council is consulting on how to apply the cuts (see below), but I can't help thinking we'll be back here again next year, with more cuts to apply. Thousands of local households have already been hit with reductinos to housing allowance.

At the same time government is trying to use the housing benefit system to reshuffle occupancy: some social housing is overcrowded, whilst other tenants have more bedrooms than they need. So, just swap them over? Easy, except that you're turfing out someone who's lived there for decades from a house full of memories, or taking away the guest room kept by an elderly tenant which is regularly used by family members. It's a pretty impossible circle to square, and there doesn't seem to be a painless way to do it.

The Government is ending the current national Council Tax Benefit scheme and all Council's have to replace it with their own local Council Tax support scheme.

Council Tax Benefit helps people with low income to pay their Council Tax.

New local schemes will start on 1 April 2013. To make sure it suits our communities, South Somerset District Council is consulting with residents on proposals for our local scheme.

The Government is reducing funding by at least 10%. For South Somerset residents this means we will receive approximately £1.3 million less than we do currently. The cost to the Council will increase further if the number of people claiming support goes up more than we expect or if Council Tax increases in future years.

This shortage in funding means we have to make some difficult decisions about who gets financial support, and how much they receive.

Council Tax helps pay for the full range of local authority services including child protection, support for children with disabilities, adult social care, roads and pavements, waste and recycling, trading standards, enforcement of environmental crime, noise nuisance, policing and fire fighting etc. Over a third of council funding comes from Council Tax.

Will the new local scheme affect me?

Households that receive Council Tax Benefit where the applicant or partner is of State Pension Credit Age -Your benefit will not be affected.

In the case of couples, where one is of pension credit age and one is of working age and in receipt of Income Support, Income Based Jobseekers Allowance or Income Related Employment and Support Allowance - You will receive less help with your Council Tax under the proposed new local scheme.

Households of working age that receive Council Tax Benefit -You will receive less help with your Council Tax under the proposed new local scheme.

What if the new local scheme doesn't find the £1.3 million savings needed?

The local scheme proposals if all agreed will cover the £1.3 million cut imposed by the Government. If they are not each local authority can do some or all of the following:

Introduce some of the proposals
Increase Council Tax
Cut the level and range of local services

Our new local scheme proposal

South Somerset's proposed local Council Tax support scheme for working age households has been produced using the following principles and the rules of the current Council Tax Benefit scheme. We believe that any reductions in the level of support should be proportionate and remove unfairness in the current Council Tax Benefit scheme:-

Principle 1 - Everyone should contribute something towards the cost of local services through Council Tax

We believe all working age people should pay something towards their Council Tax

Principle 2 - All income should be included to ensure the scheme is fair

We will include all income except Disability Living Allowance, War Widows and War Disablement Pensions

Principle 3 - Greater account should be taken of the total income of a household

We will consider every adult's income to calculate Council Tax support

Principle 4 - Provide incentives to encourage people to work

We will support and encourage people to work by ignoring more of the money they earn

Principle 5 - It should provide protection for the vulnerable

We will continue to ignore Disability Living Allowance, War Widows and War Disablement Pensions and include a hardship scheme

Principle 6 - The scheme should not penalise those that have already saved for the future

We have decided not to change the current Council Tax Benefit rules regarding savings and capital

In our consultation questionnaire we have set out our proposals that show the areas where the proposed new scheme forworking age households is different to the current Council Tax Benefit scheme.

For each proposal there is an example to help you see what the change would mean. Some or all of the proposals may be in the new scheme so more than one proposal may affect you. At the end of the proposals there is an example to help you see what a combination of those proposals could mean.

Your say on the proposals will help us decide on the final scheme design. It is important that all of you have the chance to give us your views and opinions on the possible ways to manage the funding cuts. This will help us plan council spending for next year (2013/14).

Everyone currently in receipt of Council Tax Benefit on 31 March 2013 will have their Council Tax support calculated using the information we already hold.

http://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/benefitsconsultation

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Double Standards

A couple of media stories:

Powerful piece on our double standards over abortion law, in the light of the paralympics.

Natalia Partyka was born without a right hand and forearm. She won her first international table tennis medal at the disabled world championship when she was 10. She has won more than 30 medals since. Steve Brown is Great Britain’s wheelchair rugby captain. Following an accident he broke his neck and trapped his spinal chord and is now paralysed from the chest down.

Both these individuals smash the convenient myth that aborting a disabled child is an act of mercy that cut shorts a miserable, undignified and frustrating life. This specious argument is incessantly advanced to justify Britain’s abortion law, which allows abortion up to birth if the child is “severely disabled” (but in practice covers easily corrected conditions such as cleft palates).

And a bizarre reaction to the latest retail sales figures. "The feel good factor from the Olympics failed to inspire spending" said the British Retail Consortium. It's a peculiar idea that automatically links feeling better to spending more. How many people, after watching Mo Farah win his second gold, immediately jumped off their sofas and though 'right, I'd better get down to Tesco and buy something' as an integral part of their celebrations? 

There's something insidious about the suggestion that our response to anything significant ought to be shopping. Is that all we are? The government thinks so: it's rumbling about making the Olympic extension to Sunday trading hour permanent. Good to see the boss of Sainsbury's speaking out against this last month. What a dismal Olympic legacy that would be.

Monday, September 03, 2012

This years ChurchAds Christmas campaign

Good, solid, incarnational theology from ChurchAds.

Or if you're more into the moving image, there's a great stock of stuff at the Nativity Factor. It looks like they are re-running the competition for 2012, which is great news. What would be even more intesteresting would be a Cross Factor easter version.