As a minister I try to be apolitical in opinion and allegiance. As a private citizen, I have my views and opinions like most others. It’s not an easy position to hold. But it is essential, for the integrity of such a position enables me to preach, without prejudice, on the great political themes of the Christian Gospel that fundamentally affect our daily life and living.
While I appreciate that our Coalition Government has had to face gargantuan financial difficulties both in our own country and abroad, one measure that has recently been introduced has been a source of concern and anguish. I have long thought that radical change needs to be brought to the system of benefits the nation pays individuals particularly those unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged. Equally, the need for more social housing is, surely, an obvious and urgent requirement across the country.
Ian Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions since 2010, is someone for whom I have come to develop a measured admiration. It would seem that a genuine personal social conscience is his motive in striving to simplify and make more effective a presently convoluted and wide-ranging system of financial support. Something that was profoundly influenced by an early official visit to Scotland and, in particular, the people of Glasgow’s Easterhouse district.
I am not convinced, however, that what has become known as the Bedroom Tax is the answer. Especially when Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations special investigator on housing, when visiting Glasgow’s Govanhill said: “I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this policy and why – being so vulnerable – they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn brought about by the financial crisis caused by the mismanagement of financial institutions”
The need for adequate social housing is indisputable. Many people presently live in such housing with bedrooms which remain unused. While there is logic in suggesting that these people could move into smaller accommodation releasing their larger houses for families desperately in need of extra room, I am not sure where all the smaller houses are to be found; nor if such a policy actually infringes human rights. In legal terms, the whole idea of social rights – the right to adequate healthcare, education, a decent standard of living etc – is accorded different status in different countries. In South Africa for instance, post-apartheid, social rights were incorporated into the constitution. Whereas in Britain, the legal basis of social rights comes from an international treaty dating back to 1976. The fact that this is international apparently means that our country’s most vulnerable people actually have little or no access to domestic courts to redress any grievance they may have in this matter.
Is this right ? I think not. Yet, I am aware that people within Hamilton District are, indeed, making such a housing move into smaller accommodation thereby freeing up their larger home for other families. My dilemma is simply that I do not believe Christian faith accepts that ‘the end justifies the means’. Out of this greyness of thought action must surely be taken whereby human dignity and integrity is maintained and Government policy seen to be fair to all.
A season of greyness
– and hope !
Autumn giving way to winter brings its own characteristic greyness. ‘The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ as the poet John Keats wrote. Beginning with Harvest Thanksgiving, the season all too quickly brings us to the happy remembrance of All Hallows or All saints when we can quietly recall with deep fondness the love and
friendship of those who have left their mark on our lives and whose loss still causes us pangs of painful emptiness; and also to that more bloody remembrance of those whose sacrifice in conflict was bought at such a price. Thereafter, almost before we know it, the season of Advent dawns and the celebration of Christmas offers respite from the routine and greyness of our everyday. The waiting for that respite is important. It’s reality. And the gift of Christmas is the fulfilment of that reality.
The realisation that through all our pain of remembering and anxious waiting, the hope of a new and different life can be ours. A life not based on inequality or injustice but on harmony, dignity and love. Let’s hope and pray such a star may shine more brightly for all people come the new year.
Minister of Bothwell
Interim Moderator at Gilmour and Whitehill Parish Church, Hamilton