All Things Bright and Beautiful?
‘The rich man in his castle the poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate’.
Remember having to sing that during school assemblies? It was before schools discreetly dropped the verse because, to those of us whose estate was more likely to have been a council one than an ancestral mansion with a few hundred acres of land, it pointed out where God’s political sympathies lie just a bit too bluntly.
Ah, the good old days. The Church of England wasn’t known as ‘The Tory Party at Prayer’ for nothing and they could be honest about their views on the place of the working class.
But things change. These days, just as in any other business, the old firm of Church of England Ltd has stiff competition, and to retain its share of the market has had to update and improve its public image. And the competition to recruit gullible believers has never been fiercer. While the C of E now attract smaller and smaller congregations, and thus smaller collection plates, the ‘happy-clappy’ born-again, and the born-yesterday brands are recruiting hard and forging ahead. And they frequently need plastic buckets for their collections.
So once the rumours that poverty and food banks do actually exist in working class Britain finally penetrated Lambeth Palace, and it dawned on them that unlike other banks, these don’t pay out millions in bonuses to their bosses every year, the bishops have swooped into action. Prodded on perhaps by stories in the press such as ‘Woman in coma told to find work by DWP’ (Independent, 28 February) and ‘Vulnerable man starved to death after cut to benefits’ (Guardian, 1 March) they have come flying to the rescue of the poor like a heavenly host of dog-collared Batman and Robins.
They’re quite cross too, and have told David Cameron that ‘We must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cutbacks to and failures in the benefits system’. And to show they mean business they’ve launched an ‘End Hunger Fast’ campaign. This involves asking volunteers to join them for a ‘National Day of Fasting’ on 4 April and, as an added attraction, includes a couple of vicars announcing that they would only be taking fruit juice and water for 40 days. That will certainly give Cameron and Co something to think about.
Is the Halo Halo column being a bit churlish here perhaps, do you think? This attack by the government on the poorest in society is one of the most vicious for some time and, as the bishops point out, the fact that in the world’s seventh richest country thousands are forced to rely on food banks, 5,500 have been admitted to hospital with malnutrition since last Easter, and numerous single mothers are skipping meals to enable them to feed their children is nothing short of scandalous.
The problem is that religious do-gooder events are no answer to the problem. Thousands are already fasting full time – because they don’t have any choice. Instead of stunts where vicars pretend to go hungry, or Tory MPs pretend to live (for a couple of days) on fifty quid a week to show that it can be done, the only solution is conscious class action against the system which causes the problem.
The bishops may be outraged by unemployment and poverty, and rant on about loan sharks, but what the hell do they expect? That’s capitalism for you. And the Church of England itself holds investments of about £5.2 billion in capitalist ventures – which included, as came to light last July, a hefty sum invested in Wonga, the payday loan outfit. Political virgins they may be, but how do they think the profits on their investments are generated?
Patronising the poor with charity stunts is insulting and useless. Instead of skipping your corn flakes for Jesus, we urge all members of the working class get involved in the class struggle to end this degrading and unnecessary nightmare.