The recent announcements about the capping of child benefit and the slashing of allowances to dissuade benefit-scroungers- plus -sprogs has caused quite a lot of heat, and not surprisingly as it touches on several emotive areas. Many British people feel outrage at the idea of people who produce a large number of offspring and then expect "the tax payer" to fund them for doing absolutely nothing other than bringing up said offspring to be unruly and as unemployable as they are. At the same time, most of us are aware that many who turn up in the dole queue do not fit this stereotype, they are simply people who are willing to work and have lost a job. At the back of our minds is the thought, "what if that happened to me?" and there is nothing like smelling the fire in your own kitchen, particularly in times of hardship, to suddenly make us all hesitate...
Another image that should make us hesitate is that of the impoverished child. As has been pointed out, there is no such thing as an undeserving child. When poverty knocks, it is often children who are the victims, not just in lack of food and material goods, but potentially as those who bear the brunt of increased tension. When parents are under intolerable stress, children are more likely to be neglected or abused.
These are thoughts that tug at my heart strings in this economic climate. When I heard some of the pronouncements of the coalition goverment this morning on the radio, I got this vivid and chilling image of children going to school with no shoes, without having had a meal, or without a coat in winter. I know Thatcher spoke of Victorian values, but will we see a return to raggamuffins and workhouses? Moments later I heard of outrage about bonuses for bankers, and someone asked why there is not so much talk about the undeserving rich- perhaps this is because we feel that they are out of our reach? Like the parent who goes home and hits a child, we vent our spleen on those who are vulnerable and not insulated against our hatred and contempt?
This is emotive, arguably irrational stuff, I know -and I do not like the idea of benefit scroungers any more than any of the rest of us. But I do know that Christ was unequivocal on the need to care for the poor and not to hoard riches to ourselves and that he also said that it was better to have a millstone around our necks than cause a child to stumble.
I wonder what that might have to say to us today as we try to resolve these issues with wisdom, justice and humanity?