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Tory Budget 2015

July 11, 2015

BudgetThe rhetoric around the recent budget, about how to reduce the deficit, is that our welfare system is bloated, that Labour allowed too many people to become reliant on handouts, that welfare spending is ‘spiralling out of control’ and ‘unsustainable’.

This is simply not true.   In fact, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, as a percentage of GDP, ‘Over the past 30 years……..the proportion of national income devoted to welfare spending has not shown a significant upward or downward trend over time.’

 In a recent study of working-age disability benefits, the IFS found that by 2018/19 spending on disability benefits, as a share of national income, is projected to be at its lowest level since the late 1960s. It is hardly out of control.

A belief developed that too many people were claiming these benefits, and that once people started claiming them they were ‘trapped’, ‘parked’, or ‘languishing’. True, the numbers of people on these benefits did remain fairly constant, but they were not all the same people. What seemed to be ignored was the fact that every year, hundreds of thousands of people move on to these benefits as they become ill or disabled, but then move off and back into work, or onto Jobseeker’s Allowance, as they recover.

Likewise with Jobseekers Allowance. The introduction of stricter conditionality and harsher sanctions was justified by a belief in ‘a culture of welfare dependency’, ‘entrenched worklessness’, and famously, ‘intergenerational worklessness’.

But when researchers tried to find examples of this intergenerational worklessness, they could not. The truth is that unemployment rises and falls with our economic fortunes, and spending on Jobseeker’s Allowance is a tiny part of the social security budget. Yes, we now have falling numbers of Jobseekers Allowance claimants, but we also have a record number of people who are unemployed but cannot, or will not, claim it. Sanctions are often driving people off benefits, but not into work.

The truth is that the main drivers of welfare spending are not a ‘culture of welfare dendency’, but an aging population, low pay, and a dysfunctional housing market which means hardworking families need Housing Benefit to pay their rent.

Why is this of concern to Christians? Just look at the overwhelming teaching of scripture (which has much more to say about wealth/poverty than about sexuality):

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

And the fathers:

How can I make you realize the misery of the poor? How can I make you understand that your wealth comes from their weeping? Basil of Caesaraea

The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally. John Chrysostom

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put into the bank belongs to the poor. Basil of Caesaraea

Who is the Rich Man who is Saved?. Having begun with a scathing criticism of the corrupting effects of money and misguided servile attitudes towards the wealthy, Clement discusses the implications of Mark 10:25. The rich are either unconvinced by the promise of eternal life, or unaware of the conflict between the possession of material and spiritual wealth, and the good Christian has a duty to guide them towards a better life through the Gospel. Jesus’ words are not to be taken literally – we should seek the supercelestial [ὑπερουράνιος] meaning in which the true route to salvation is revealed. The holding of material wealth in itself is not a wrong, as long as it is used charitably, but men should be careful not to let their wealth dominate their spirit. It is more important to give up sinful passions than external wealth. If the rich man is to be saved, all he must do is to follow the two commandments, and while material wealth is of no value to God, it can be used to alleviate the suffering of our neighbour. Clement of Alexandria

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