In January this year, churches and communities joined us in Shropshire to share with us their visions of a Good Society. Four themes emerged for action towards building a Good Society nationally – introduced here by our National Community Link Worker Amanda Bickerton.
People were concerned about two distinct issues with the social security safety net.
Firstly, people felt that punitive benefit sanctions are a glaring injustice and that a mass campaign against them is necessary, even if there appears to be little political will for change.
“There is a disconnect in knowledge about benefit sanctions: those with direct experience of their implementation and impact know a great deal about the iniquities of the system, those without know very little.”
Secondly, for people who have been sanctioned or whose social security benefits have been delayed, there is an immediate need for information and crisis support.
People feel that we must tackle both issues at the same time.
A fair economy
Our Good Society conversations raised a number of issues about the economy: zero-hours contracts, low pay, unemployment, income and wealth inequality, and tax.
People want to step up the campaign for a real living wage – and also call for a limit on the differential between the lowest and highest pay in an organisation.
People saw inequality as the over-arching problem: it is bad for everybody, including the rich. Underlying this issue is the fact that the reward system in our society is only focused on money, not targeted at the needs of society – and that vested interests dominate our politics and our economy. But there are alternatives: co-operation rather than competition, and profit-sharing rather than individual accumulation of wealth.
Church engagement in communities
Faith is important and churches need to be a prophetic voice for social justice. But many need to change to engage their wider communities, by addressing reality and getting out of their comfort zones to become real community centres, driven by a change in mindset and understanding in congregations from negative attitudes to positive action.
“Faith is about speaking truth and hospitality….The separation of church and community raises the question ‘where is the social gospel?’”
People thought that there needs to be a forum for churches to engage in non-partisan political campaigning, alongside work to empower churches to be more effective in community engagement.
“Churches should not be afraid of shocking people to bring about change.”
One common strand in most of the Good Society conversations across the country was the situation faced by young people, and their inclusion in campaigning for change. Young people in poverty today have more limited life chances than their parents or their grandparents did; youth unemployment is growing across Europe; and the predominant culture is deeply materialist, placing great pressure on young people:
“Economic drivers dominate with the commodification of everything.”
There was a real sense that we should not just campaign for young people in poverty, but that we should actively engage and campaign with young people.
There is much we can learn from new movements driven by young people: issue-based, lively, and multimedia. There is currently a disconnect between formal, structured organisations and the messy, non-hierarchical young movements – perhaps we all need to be a bit less formal and a bit more messy.
In the coming months and years. Church Action on Poverty’s national campaigns and projects will be guided by these themes as we work to build a Good Society. We will also continue to work with the partners who held Good Society conversations and shared their visions.