Archbishop John Sentamu - right on British patriotism; wrong on the 'Living Wage'
From Brother Ivo:
Archbishop John Sentamu is undoubtedly a good man, a fine Christian, a great communicator and a national treasure. His plain humanity would almost certainly guarantee him a special place in the affections of the British public, but more than that, Archbishop John 'gets' what it is to be British in a way that most of our other Church folk and jaded media lovelies do not: no cynic he; he knows this country's unique value and contribution to the sum of happiness through its institutions and innate sense of fairness, and he cheerfully says so in ways that irritate the politically correct and the moaning minnies of the Left.
Brother Ivo is an admirer who prays for Archbishop John's recovery from his recently-disclosed cancer; the announcement of which saddened all who value him for who he is and what his leadership says about us.
All this makes it harder to offer criticism, but the Archbishop will appreciate that personal regard should not inhibit honest and respectful criticism. And so Brother Ivo draws attention to the deficiency of the statement by the Archbishop on the subject of welfare reform.
If he were simply saying that we need to be very alert to the problems of the poor; anxious to promote the welfare of all; that we are our brother's keeper, and that those overly attached to their wealth are at serious risk of missing life's greater priorities, then Brother Ivo would have no issues.
However, Archbishop John goes a stage further and allows himself to be drawn overly close to the failed nostrums of the un-Christian Left and, in such circumstances, there is a fraternal duty to speak plainly and lovingly to correct his error. At the very least, he deserves to know what those who question his judgements in this are currently thinking.
Archbishop John begins with an attack on the concept of the 'undeserving poor'. If he were simply warning that a rotten apple should not be allowed to dominate the whole debate, one would have little difficulty. But he seems to reject all and any interest in husbanding wisely the resources given to government by ordinary working folk, and minimising abuse of the welfare system. He also conflates concern for a balance of fairness, with a desire to disassemble the Beveridge welfare state, which he describes with one glaring omission.
Defining the evils of poverty to be combatted, Beveridge highlighted alongside those of squalor, want, disease and ignorance, the evil of idleness.
Idleness is no Christian virtue. It is not the exclusive vice of the poor, but, when the working poor encounter it amongst their neighbours, it damages community, causes resentment and limits the imagination and prospects of children within communities where generational idleness has taken hold. Those earning average wages cheerfully want to help the genuinely needy, but resent it when they think their taxes are being used imprudently and that they are being taken for mugs. Often they know whereof they speak better than politicians and prelates.
No doubt honest stories of misfortune and heroic coping regularly reach the ears of the caring clergy: it is less likely that the dishonest, the cunning, the fraudster or the exploiter will be equally candid, but Joe Public knows, sees, and is neither stupid nor starry eyed.
If Archbishop John has not met those less deserving of the taxpayers charity, Brother Ivo has. And here are three examples:
X was the father of eight children, all of whom had serious problems of emotional neglect because, put simply, X and his wife had, with each new arrival, progressively lost the art of 'crowd control' within their household. The family was not in financial want and the house, though chaotic, lacked none of the consumable durables of the average middle-class home. X had been 'fortunate' to have had his alcoholism designated as a 'disability' - which meant that his enhanced welfare payments enabled him to spend more on alcohol. X's mindset was that he was fully entitled to have made these choices because he was reproducing the next generation of British children: he knew and resented that the immigrant birth-rate was higher than that of the indigenous population. When Social Services eventually decided to intervene, he was outraged; he simply could not understand how the State which had parented him for so long was now asking him to unlearn the lessons of benign institutional neglect with which he had seriously damaged those eight children - and the ninth conceived during the proceedings because old habits die hard.
Y was a Roma who came to the UK unlawfully with some 50 others, obliging the Local Authority to open wards in a formerly-closed hospital to accommodate his and other similar parties of like-minded folk. He told Brother Ivo (in certain terms) that he was the son of a cultural leader back home and that he was here to make as much as he could so that he and his party could to send it back home, He might return; he might stay. He evidenced his status by putting on a video of a recent family wedding in a house three times the size of Brother Ivo's, where half the guests were recording the proceedings on high technology, including the fleet of Mercedes cars that brought them to the place of celebration. Y admitted that they were not persecuted at home but that he ' had to say so' in order to remain in the country.
It was all the more bizarre to encounter him and his wife sitting either end of a London street some months later, selling the Big Issue. Brother Ivo had been many times to the pleasant 4-bedroom house they had been allocated by the local authority: it was much better than the flat which was all Brother Ivo's young tax-paying young relative could afford to buy (who left home a 7.00 each morning to work for the Daily Telegraph).
Z was a young mother who played the system. She took and dealt drugs 'because everybody does'. She was dishonest because the media had drawn her attention to the dishonesty of certain parliamentarians which, instead of causing her to speak up for higher standards, was used to justify her own criminality and playing the system. She was quite talented and intelligent in her sub-cultural way, knowing that if you stole items under £80 you would be barred from the shop, but not prosecuted. And she explained how she kept up-to-date on how to keep her drug-dealing to sufficiently small (though constant) transactions in order to avoid court appearances through multiple cautions. Her lifestyle of unchallenged, state-supported substance abuse lost her her children, including the child regretfully aborted in a last-ditch attempt to convince the authorities that had inexplicably 'turned on her' that she was ready to change.
These stories are as much part of the picture of welfare dependency as those of poor service delivery that attract outrage amongst our more liberal clergy.
Brother Ivo has joined people like Shaun Bailey and Iain Duncan Smith who speak of the very real tragedies within such stories: we unashamedly adopt Ronald Reagan's view that 'We should measure welfare's success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added'.
Brother Ivo is delighted at the determination of the Work & Pensions Secretary to make work pay and to bring the excluded into the economic mainstream - even if it costs more to do so.
Nobody begrudges support for the needy: it is the Mick Philpotts of this world who might be regarded as the 'undeserving poor', but not in the way that Archbishop John might think. To the Christian, they are worth more than being written off into the unchallenged underclass as many liberals do. They deserve to have better concern than an occasional inflation rise, even if that is more than the working poor often enjoy.
There is an additional absurdity in simultaneously funding litigation by disabled people to be given a chance to show what they may achieve, whilst simultaneously and complacently making no effort to engage those who are perhaps equally placed to work, and whose families are at risk of generational idleness as identified by Beveridge. This is why restructuring welfare payments to ensure that work always pays is a moral imperative.
Archbishop John falls for two other misconception of the Left: the bankers did contribute to the 2008 crisis, but so did the 'equality advocates' and the Government. All three components were needed.
Bankers repackaged risky lending and traded it with AAA status when it was anything but. However, they did so after the US Government repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and enacted the Commodities Futures Modernisation Act, which deregulated credit default swaps, and the Community Reinvestment Act, by which government encouraged bank-lending to poor people who could never have secured such mortgages from a prudent lender. Armed with new 'rights', community activists threatened harassment litigation of any bank that held to prudent banking practice. The banks caved in and made the loans because they could sell them on to government lenders Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae. Government loved the revenue from taxing bankers profits in the good times. They distributed that in welfare payments to their client voters on both sides of the Atlantic.
Archbishop John needs to appreciate this before attributing blame in one direction only, and to be additionally prudent before falling in with the Left that supplied two sides of that toxic triangle. He is not wrong in seeking to champion the working poor, but he does need to consider three discomforting facts:
Firstly, why have hundreds of thousands of ambitious Poles, Czechs and youngsters from the Baltic States been willing and able to relocate successfully and find work in the UK whilst similar numbers from Birkenhead, Burnley or Barnsley have been unable? Might there not be cultural inhibitors or welfare structural factors at work? To ask is neither selfish nor disrespectful.
Secondly, why is there such a high number of those who have never worked in our Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities? Honest analysis demands the courage to address hard questions.
Thirdly, is it coincidental that high disincentives from the welfare system hold the indigenous back while newcomers in a free-movement market work for rates that are unappealing, and yet the immigrants accept tougher working and living conditions, often 'under the radar'?
The Archbishops most specific error is in taking up the notion of the 'living wage'. It is a superficially attractive concept but it is rooted in the linguistic manipulations of those who espouse 'the woman's right to choose' in preference to the rather more stark 'abortion'.
What Churchman can be against a 'Living Wage'? That is why its proponents choose the term: many of them hate and ridicule Christianity, but the hard Left has always valued what they term the 'useful idiots' who will travel with them along the statist way.
We already have the 'Minimum Wage' which is routinely under-cut within impenetrable communities of either the cash-in-hand welfare claimant or the isolated immigrant. The 'Living Wage' is no more than a political construct: it might take hold to bloat the public sector, but it will also render uneconomic the work of others whose economic value does not currently reach the rates that the public sector can be forced to pay through the disruptive or political power of Unite.
Before he allows himself to support what may easily become a job-losing campaign, Archbishop John might reflect that just before the millennium our union leaders were agitating for what they briefly called '21st Century Wages' - until they discovered what they were.
They were $80 a month - in China.