Thursday, February 20, 2014

Listening to the unheard in the 'welfare' debate

The voices that often get drowned out in the debate about the morality of welfare - currently running in the lively exchanges between the Government and various church leaders - are the voices of the poor, those reduced to 'welfare' such as it is.

Well, this morning I heard that voice loud and clear in a scene that played out over breakfast in our night shelter. One guy, who lacks the deposit to get back to the west country where he has a shout at a property where he could live with his partner and children, looked at another, about to go to a drug and alcohol service to see if he can get a referral to residential rehab and said 'you can't go like that.'

He proceeded to produce from his bag a set of hair clippers and having secured my permission to do so, gave his new-found friend a number 2 and a shave, leaving him looking, from the neck up, like any other man in his miod-40s wondering the streets of Bromley this morning.

Having completed his task, our barber turned to the room and said 'that's better; we can't have our mate looking like a down and out.'

This almost silent action spoke more about the morality of the 'welfare' debate than the column inches and indignant responses that have filled the airwaves of late. Here was the articulation of simple humanity, the fact that everyone has a dignity from being made in God's image, and that dignity will force its way to the surface even when a system tries to rub it out.

The indignity of the current 'welfare' system is seen in grindingly slow actions by statutory authorities that leaves people trapped in a money-less and home-less limbo where the will to make a life for oneself is slowly sapped and sucked dry. Reforms driven by any recognisable morality would have at their heart the intention of restoring people's dignity by giving them choice, time and the means to help themselves out of the situation in which they find themselves.

I think it's for this reason that we used to call this system 'social security' because it was premised on a morality that suggested everyone in our society had a right to a minimum level of security and that we who are stronger, richer, more together will assist those who are weaker, poorer, struggling, because we know that there might be a season when we are in their place and need similar support.

It seems to me that this is a system based on a morality of mutualism and human dignity that I find at the heart of the Bible that I read.

1 comment:

L fairfax said...

One voice that is almost never heard is the voice of people who see single mums being given housing that they can afford, who see "disabled people" training martial arts.
When they voice these things they are called Daily Mail readers - although sadly real life shows stories far worse than the Daily Mail does.
Of course these scroungers and abusers of the system are those who cause the problems for everyone else.
Ignoring them is what really puts the welfare state in danger.