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FAITH in the POOR – Bob Holman

September 17, 2016

fitpConcerned about the distance of academics from the problems they study, Bob Holtman has been living and working on Europe’s largest public housing estate, Easterhouse in Glasgow, for many years. In his powerful new book, Holman asks seven people who experience poverty every day to describe the reality of their lives. These moving and articulate accounts of life at the bottom of the social scale deserve to be heard by the policy-makers, social workers, churches, and voluntary groups who presume to know what is best for the poor

Not all the unemployed or other welfare claimants are workshy – what if you had an accident at work in your twenties? What if you had to leave an abiive husband?

He shows how hard it is for people on benefits to budget, though I fear I noticed the inclusion of tobacco. (Though NB “some will condemn Erica for smoking. But for her it was a relief from boredom, from the monotony of a life that was insular, restricted and repetitive. She said, ‘I hate it that people say that because you are on social security you shouldn’t smoke. But it’s like Valium, it calms me.’”)


If God made human beings `to be like himself’ then all individuals must be of enormous value. If God chose to shape them, as the Authorized Version puts it, ‘in his own image’, then he must consider everyone to be of great importance, and it follows that the created should also regard their fellow creatures as of immense value.

God’s valuation of humankind was evident in the Jubilee laws. He wanted all individuals to share in the abundance of society.Yet these laws were largely ignored.

Jesus was not born into a royal palace but in a stable. His childhood friends were not the sons and daughters of successful financiers and powerful politicians but those of ordinary village dwellers. When he began his ministry, he scandalized the establishment by giving little time to the rich and famous, and instead showed his love for beggars, lepers, prostitutes, the outcasts of society. He did not exclude the top brass, and indeed he sometimes asked them to give their wealth to the poor and to follow him. But his disciples and followers were overwhelmingly made up of ordinary folk, the fishermen, traders, labourers and — unusual for that era — women and foreigners. Jesus was astonishingly radical in that he called and gave responsibility to those who socially and materially were in the bottom percentage of the time. Further, he often told parables which contained warnings for the rich while exalting the poverty-stricken..

There can be little doubt that God holds all people to be not only valuable but equally valuable. He counters the worldly bias towards the rich and powerful by displaying a special concern for the well-being of the poor and powerless.

they are a rebuke to those who preach that the problem of poverty is exaggerated. Adrian Rogers, Director of the Conservative Family Institute, claimed that income support rates are ‘pretty lavish’. Richard Pryke, writing for the Institute of Economic Affairs, asserted that the proportion of the population in poverty `is negligible’ and ‘since mass poverty does not exist, there is no call for the feelings of guilt which are generated by its supposed existence’. He even implies that people on very low incomes are not generally made unhappy by this.4 The details given by Erica, Anita, Denise and Penny reveal that life on income support meant a hand-to-mouth existence, reliance on secondhand furniture and clothes, continual debt, choices between paying bills or buying food, and lacking the money to keep warm. The tensions and anxieties associated with their hardship and monotony led to depression, unhappiness, illness and distress. Their poverty is real and cannot be wished away by the words of affluent politicians and academics

they provided facilities for their children. Anita stated how important it was that Bill could play football and go to camps. He was able to develop his skills at football, table tennis and swimming, and Bill himself recorded how he was boosted when he won trophies at the clubs.At the camps he made relationships with leaders whom he could admire. Penny’s son also benefited from attending the youth clubs in an area where there was no statutory or commercial provision for youth

they encouraged involvement. Statutory services sometimes treat users just as recipients, those who give but do not give. Neighbourhood groups put an tmphasis on local involvement

Bill Jordan, probably the leading social work academic, observed that social work has ‘become more coercive and restrictive’ with staff checking behaviour, threatening to remove children in order to get compliance like agreeing to attend a centre for training or treatment, and denying parental access to their children.11

As child protection dominated social work, the giving of emotional and practical support to parents to enable them to retain their children fell out of fashion. It did not disappear, but in terms of training, status and resources, it received less priority,

Counselling. Both Captain Eric and Anne Buchanan spent time with individuals. Captain Buchanan was often forthright in his advice and actions and could be incensed when women and children were badly treated. I recall one occasion when Penny’s partner both kept her short of money and slapped her around.The captain was all for getting some of his heavies — reformed alcoholics — give him a beating. He calmed down and told the partner he would report him to the police. It was a kind righteous anger that flared up at bullying injustice.

Friendships. The Salvation Army meeting. I ended with cups of tea and time for talk. worshippers, often troubled and isolated new acquaintances which sometimes blo friendships. Erica appreciated being a me: small women’s group which sang on speci Carol found a role at the lunches where she team which prepared and served food to very Penny would often drop in for a chat with other attenders formed a kind of fellowship only came to the regular meetings but also en together at the Easter breakfast, the harvest the Christmas lunch. Friendships made at the often be continued outside with visits to their homes.

Practical help. All the writers who men Salvation Army referred to receiving mat Usually it was secondhand furniture for whicl a modest price. Sometimes it was clothing ar purchased at one of the jumble sales. For soma was the source of their only holiday. These services were essential to people with very low incomes. They could also be social occasions. Visits to the store often meant seeing friends

Probably the most important way of gaining acceptance is by staying long-term. Members of deprived areas can be cynical about middle-class professionals who move in, leave after a year or so and then use the experience as a career step in social work or for collecting data for a thesis. I believe that church leaders should commit themselves for at least a decade.

This leadership style should be combined with a church neighbourhood style. Evangelical churchgoers will be familiar with sermons about the dangers of worldliness. Some churches have almost withdrawn from contact with  their communities and have taken on a siege mentality in which the church buildings become castles with the drawbridges lowered just for Sunday meetings and mid­week prayer gatherings. If I understand the life of Christ aright, then he was fully immersed in the world without succumbing to the worldly values of selfishness and greed. Within the context of deprived areas, the church’s role must be to reach out to the material and social needs of residents on the grounds that God is concerned about these needs. At times, Christians will feel compelled to give money and food directly to those who are in desperate straits. This must be done sensitively and confidentially in order to minimize the charity handout approach which can demean recipients. Far better, however, if churches as agencies and Christians as individuals participate in neighbourhood co-operative ventures which make goods available in ways which uphold human dignity. A furniture store can involve local people in collecting and repairing goods which are then sold not given.

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