I need to be upfront: I am really very, very, angry.
I am angry as a Dad, but also as Christian priest.
Last January (January 2014) one of my daughters applied for Independent Living Allowance. A few months later she phoned the company, appointed by the Department of Work and Pensions, asking when she might hear the outcome of her application. She was asked, or told, not to contact the company until six months had lapsed.
She recently received a letter, dated 25th January 2015, saying that she would be visited by a representative of the company screening applications on behalf of the department on the 15th February. She subsequently received a letter, dated 26th January (i.e. the very next day) informing her that her appointment had been cancelled. No alternative date has been proposed.
I am obviously biased but I think that the way disabled people and other minorities are treated, in this age of austerity, is a disgrace: that is to say it falls below the standards of Christian grace.
I understand that government departments are under huge pressure, and if the way disabled people were treated was solely a consequence of a system unable to cope with the demands placed on it I might have some sympathy. But, I have a nagging feeling that the problem is in fact attitudinal.
Lord Freud (an ex banker, who has worked for both of the main political parties, and has a specialist interest in welfare reform), for instance, has suggested that vast swathes of the disabled do not deserve the minimum wage.
There is something deeply unsettling about a highly educated, able bodied, 57 year old, ex-banker offering such opinions.Does he talk from experience? Me thinks not. Of course, by contrast, all able bodied bankers deserve their pay and rations: don’t they?
Mike Harper, the Minister of Sate for Disabled People, makes only passing reference to his brief on his website (http://www.markharper.org). Surely, we should expect a minister of state to be ‘publicly passionate,’ about their clients? If they aren’t why on earth should they be offered the brief? Still, less, how with any integrity can they accept it?
In the Gospels we find many accounts of Jesus healing the disabled. He was able to do so because he had compassion for them. In fact Jesus had compassion for all who were excluded and marginalised. Jesus knew that each and every person is made in the image of God. He knew that in a just society everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to the common good. He knew that denial of opportunity is a grave form of institutional sin. He also knew (as would anyone with eyes to see and ears to listen) that the disabled (just like other marginalised groups) have to draw on enormous reserves of sheer bloodymindedness and resilience just to get through the day, The way ‘minorities’ were treated angered him greatly. We, too, should be angered. It’s called righteous anger.
As Christians we need to be very clear about our priorities and, our priorities require us to, on occasion, prefer the needs of others. We need to take Jesus’ declaration that He is the fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy seriously (Luke 4, 17-21) seriously. Our theological task is to:
‘Bring good news to the poor……proclaim release to the captives……….recovery of sight to the blind…….to let the oppressed go free…….to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Our theological task is (especially in this election year),must inform our political task.
So when I cast my vote this May it will be for the party that seems to have the greatest compassion for the marginalised – let’s hope I can find such a party.