I hope that as you read this you are somewhere warm and comfortable and where you feel secure – or that at least you have somewhere like that to return to. Tens of thousands of our fellow citizens do not have this luxury. Rough sleeping, the visible iceberg tip of homelessness, has been increasing month on month for more than a year now. The first victims of the Coalition Government’s benefit cuts, people between 26 and 34 in age whose Housing Benefit no longer covers the cost of independent accommodation, have begun to turn up homeless at church-run drop ins. As the Night Shelters Housing Justice supports have opened for the new winter season they are quickly filling up with street homeless people, and with those who have run out of friend’s floors to sleep on.
And all this before the worst of the planned cuts in benefits have begun. All over our country there are families where a cloud has been cast over Christmas by the receipt of a letter informing them that from 1st April the money they receive will be cut by the Overall Benefit Cap. Whatever the size, ages and particular needs of the family they will be limited to £500 per week to pay for all their wants. People who were already making hard decisions about whether to heat their home or have sufficient to eat are now faced with the additional worry of whether to scrimp further to pay the rent or try to find somewhere else (somewhere smaller and cheaper) to live. This is the backdrop for the announcement by the Chancellor that benefit increases will no longer be linked to inflation but instead will be fixed at 1% for the next three years. If we really believe that, as the Psalmist says, the Lord hears the cry of the poor, then a thunderous roar must be rising up from Britain as so many poor and marginalised people are made to bear the brunt of cuts to reduce our national deficit.
But what are we to do? How should we respond? First with practical help and hospitality: we can give food, clothes and a warm welcome to the homeless, hungry and needy people who turn to our churches and charities for help and support. (There are more suggestions for practical help at http://www.housingjustice.org.uk.) Second with prayer, mindfulness and attention: be aware of the people around you at work, in the shops, in the street – recognise the dignity, the troubles, and the peace in them. Finally be prepared to stand up for those who are labelled as scroungers and shirkers – a truly fair society is one where poor and homeless people are the last to be scapegoated and penalised.

  1. Debbie says:

    £500 per week is equivalent to an annual salary of £32,000. There are many working people who dream of earning that much money. I agree we need to support the poor and marginalised but I also believe that benefit payments have to be equitable. Why should one family have to struggle on an average salary of £15,000 and another one get benefits of twice that for doing nothing?

    • I see where you are coming from Debbie but someone earning 15k with 3 children would get child and working tax credits worth another 12k at least, plus something towards their rent which I think brings them to about the same place in terms of take home cash. Also I think a single parent with three under fives is better looking after them at home than paying someone else to look after them in a nursery – much better for the children to be cared for by their mum and plenty of time for her to find work after they have started school.

      • Debbie says:

        Yes, I totally agree that mums (or dads) should be encouraged to stay at home and care for young families and not penalised for doing so. There are so many issues related to supporting and caring for the poor, homeless, long term unemployed, single people and families…..there are many different ways of helping them and I do believe that one of them is by reducing the current over dependence (by some not all) on benefits. However I know that, although this sounds good in the long term, it will not feel good for the people concerned in the short term. The fact is that we need to change the way that we look at benefits (ie as a short term help in difficult cirumstances and not as a long term income) and that is going to be a painful process for those that have always relied on benefits as their only income. I believe we need to be campaigning to ensure that those people are provided with alternatives to a life on benefits rather than the continuation of benefits themselves.

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