Thursday, 21 June 2012

Bashing the bishops?

I don't really want to raise anyone's blood pressure further, but my attention was caught this morning by a snippet on the radio about the huge variation in the expenses claimed by various bishops to attend the House of Lords. The highest claimant was Peter Forster (Bishop of Chester) though to be fair he probably does spend a fair amount of time there opposing gay marriage and explaining that there is no need for alarm about global warming. The Diocese of Chester website describes him as" Parliamentary Spokesperson on the Environment/ climate change"- so you can relax on that front knowing things are covered. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York claimed nothing (as in expenses, I have heard nothing of their views on climate change!)
There has already been talk of  reforming the House of Lords and there are some changes ahead anyway. It is also possible that the Government's proposals for equal marriage will lead to a split between church and state.  Perhaps there is a bit of an agenda behind the leaking (if it is that?) of this sort of bishops-expenses-scandal? The British Humanist Society in its Holy Redundant campaign has described them as "archaic and unjust" and now they can add "costly" to the list as well.  I don't mind so much if the bishops express strong views, or even use their parlimentary privilege to get them heard - although whether that privilege is right or appropriate in this day and age is debatable. What I do want is that those highest in the church should be the greatest servants of others. They should be unmaterialistic and  live modestly, have a heart for the poor and vulnerable, have very little sense of their own self importance and NOT be furnished with a chaffeur driven car, a cleaner and a gardener.


  1. A thousand Amens to your last sentence Suem.
    Sadly candidates for canonization appear to be thin on the ground.

  2. For once, I shall come to the defense of bishops. My own bishop lives in a flat in a huge Bishop's Palace. He needs a gardener to keep the park nice for tourists, people who hire the grounds and whatever official functions happen there. If he had to do it himself, he'd be a fulltime gardener, not a fulltime Diocesan bishop.
    He does paperwork in the car while he's being driven around his many appointments in the Diocese, and he has too many evening and weekend appointments to clean the flat on his one day off a week.

    What is a luxury to some of us is a necessity to others, and we have the choice to provide it as part of the job or to pay people better so they can afford it out of their incomes.

    Having said that, I cannot judge whether the Parliamentary payments are justified, I know too little about how that money is used.

  3. They can't all live in a small flat (is it a small flat?) in the midst of a huge park open to tourists and available for the public to hire? How long does it take to clean a small flat anyhow? What about a single mum holding down several poorly paid jobs and juggling that with childcare etc. I bet she doesn't have much time for housework or much money to pay for it.
    Diocesan bishops are paid 38,440- 39,030 (although those are the figures for 2010, so it will be a bit more I guess now.)Although it is not a massive salary, it is well above the national average which was £26,200 in 2011. Moreover, bishops have a house, car and the other benefits mentioned provided which does all boost the value of their job(in pecuniary terms- ie no mortgage or rent to pay for a start.) Fine! But then when you see some claiming very high expenses and others nothing at all, you wonder what is going on?

  4. Sue,
    yes, the flat is reasonably small, although it is obviously designed as a family flat because some bishops have young children.
    It depends on what you want a bishop to do. If you want him to spend the same amount of time on small jobs as a single mother and juggle childcare, then I have no argument. But I don't think that that allows him to do the kind of bishoping we expect bishops to do.

    Did you see the link to a Guardian page yesterday that allowed you to put in your after tax household income and then told you where you were in comparison with other people?

    I don't know what figure you'd put in for someone earning 40,000 - say personal allowance of £7000 and 20% tax on the rest comes to around £26.400, and say you have 2 children over 14 years of age. According to the Guardian, 26% then have a lower income than you, you are living on the margins of poverty.

    Now, it's ridiculous to say that Bishops are living near poverty levels, for a start, their housing is free.
    Even so - rich they are not.

    I don't know how these Parliamentary expenses are calculated and what bishops are expected to pay out of them and whether those expenses would have to be paid privately otherwise or could be claimed as business expenses - so to some extent, this whole conversation is purely speculative.

    But the main point I'd like to make is that we do not know what the bishops who do claim this money do with it.
    Do they use it for themselves? Do they donate it to charity or to their dioceses?

    For newspapers to just throw these figures into the ring without any proper background information is designed to breed envy or resentment and I don't like those very much.

    By all means, let's "wonder what's going on" and let's call someone out if we discover that he is rolling in it and yet claiming expenses for himself. But until we can be sure of our facts, I think we should be careful.

  5. I want him to do the same things as ordinary people do, help look after his children, clean his house, do his garden, or, if he does not wish to or feels he hasn't time, then pay for it out of his stipend.
    I work ten hour days. I set off for work at 7.15, arrive at 8. I often work until 6 or later. I work through my lunch break and I bring marking and paperwork home for the weekends. I don't claim any expenses. I am also extremely lucky in that Kev does most (not all) of the housework and cooking, but if he wasn't around then I would have to do it or make a choice whether to pay for it out of my salary (which as a middle manager in education is about the same as a diocesan bishops.) I am not complaining, we are very comfortably off/ well off, lots of other people manage on less money, with more demanding roles outside of work and more difficult choices about how to manage their money.
    I think expenses claimed from the public purse should be to cover actual costs which bishops have incurred and not to cover a donation to charity or offer an additional income/ perk. I think donations to charity made in an individual's name should come from that individual's income not taxpayers' money. All these expectations are not unreasonable!
    It is not bishops' fault if the system only allows them to claim certain fixed for example for accommodation and does not require them to submit receipts. But when the amounts being claimed are in that region(and we are talking £37,000 pounds!) it seems to me that some level of accountability should be in place (receipts etc.)
    So, we don't know whether bishops are a. Giving large chunks of public money to charity b. Squirrelling it away in high interest accounts c. requiring it to cover genuine expenses (which in my view is the only legitimate use!) But the point is that we ought to know!
    I don't want to someone living in penury because they are working in the church, having come from a clergy family I know that clergy are not wealthy, but a stipend is meant to be a payment that frees someone to pursue their ministry to others, not to benefit from lots of material perks.

  6. I put in my income in and found that someone on my salary is, "on the edge of poverty. A small reduction would see you slip below the poverty line." (!!!)

  7. I absolutely agree that there ought to be more accountability and that people have expenses reimbursed but nothing more.

    I don't know how the Guardian works out its figures. When we put in our joint household income, we felt the result reflected fairly accurately where we would have put ourselves. Does it take things like housing benefit, tax credits etc. into account to work out actual family income?

  8. I don't know how it calculates it. It is a fairly blunt tool anyhow, for example if you don't have a mortgage that makes a big difference to how far your income stretches. If you are helping support one (or more) of your offspring at university, that might make a huge difference etc, etc. I can't reliably enter joint income as Kev is currently working freelance and averages about one day a week (but no fixed contract.)But for over a year we just had my salary coming in and we were OK!

  9. I agree, fixed outgoings should be accounted for, and also where you live as regional differences in living costs are considerable.