THE Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has called on churches to demonstrate “love-in-action” to tackle what he called “the new poverty”.
“The extraordinary feature of what I call the ‘new poverty’ is that many of the ‘new poor’ are in work,” Dr Sentamu said in a presidential address to the General Synod this past week.
“Once upon a time you couldn’t really be living-in-poverty if you had a regular income. You could find yourself on a low income, yes, but not living in poverty, but that is no longer so. You can be in work and still be in poverty.”
The “increasing poverty in a land of plenty” was a “blight”, he said. “We are a developed economy and a first-world country, so how can it be that in this day and age we are seeing malnutrition, food poverty and energy poverty at such levels in our country.”
Dr Sentamu queried a recent Yorkshire Post report about a trebling of the number of people admitted to hospital in Leeds to be treated for malnutrition: “How can it be that, last year, more than 27,000 people were diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition in Leeds – not Lesotho, not Liberia, not Lusaka, but Leeds.”
He said that “the impact of welfare reforms is now beginning to bite, with reductions in housing benefits for so-called under-occupation of social housing, the cap on benefits for workless householders and single parents, and the gradual replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with a Personal Independence Payment.”
In the UK, the link between poverty and poor housing had been broken, so that it was “increasingly possible to be very poor but still live in a decent home,” he said; but he warned that this was now at risk, “as overcrowding, poor housing conditions and insecurity once again become associated with poverty.”
Governments “cannot do much more than tinker with the deep-seated trends,” he said, making the case that “the requirement for love-in-action by the Church becomes more urgent.
“The Church will and must respond positively. Relieving poverty is part of what it means to be Christian. . . Parishes up and down the country are striving hard to tackle the consequences of poverty. . . Indeed, for a parish not to be doing something about it is becoming the exception rather than the rule.
“The Church can make an impact when its members, at every level, recognise that they have a responsibility to reflect the experience, the life, the troubles, the fears and the hopes of those among whom we serve; whether it is the individual local church volunteer helping their neighbour; the parish making representatives to the local council; groups of Christian business-people challenging company ethics; bishops speaking to civic leaders in their dioceses; or the Lords Spiritual raising the debate in the House of Lords. . .
“Poverty is costly, wasteful and risky,” he said. “It seems to me that we in the Church of England must make the argument that losing human potential at a time when we need all the capacity we can gather is hugely wasteful [and] that paying people below the level required for subsistence fractures the social contract . . . and that this is risky.”