Who has pottered by this way, then?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The cost of living

The Anglican archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, along with eighteen bishops, are backing amendments to the government's welfare reform bill to be tabled by John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds in the House of Lords, it is reported in today's Observer:
In an open letter in Observer, they say the Church of England has a "moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice". Their message is that the cap could be "profoundly unjust" to the poorest children in society, especially those in larger families and those living in expensive major cities.
I'm glad to read about this. After the initial ambiguity of the church's response to the Occupy protesters outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, it is good to see the C of E getting its story straight. And, indeed, this should be just the kind of issue the church can get straight: defending the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless should be its home turf in terms of issues. My only question is about the last phrase of that quote from the Observer article: "especially... those living in expensive major cities."

Now, I am not disagreeing that major cities are indeed expensive to live in. Been there, done that, do not need convincing. My only concern is that, as ever, the impact on the poorest children in rural areas is overlooked. Many teachers, health professionals and members of the clergy whose work involves rural communities will tell you that they come across the same levels of poverty and need as their colleagues in urban areas. The problem with rural poverty is that it's spread very thinly throughout the country. Numbers of families living in poverty is lower than in urban areas (around 1 in 6 adults in rural areas, compared with 1 in 4 in urban areas). That said, if the rural poor were all gathered together, you'd have a fair sized city of 3.5 million people (half a million more than the population of Wales, a city with just under half the population of London according to last year's government population estimates.).

If such a city with such levels of need were to exist in this country, you'd like to think its needs would be considered and its needs would not be so easy to overlook. So I hope that the excellent Bishop John Packer, in presenting his amendments to the Lords does find space for a few words acknowledging the very real (and often rather different) needs of the invisible rural poor, as well as the obvious needs of those affected by these reforms in our cities.

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