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14 March 2013

The Welfare of Scotland

The Welfare of Scotland

Welfare Reform. Wherever you turn you cannot get away from it. Whether it is late night parliamentary debates, radio phone-ins, or the fall out from court cases more discussion and column inches must have been devoted to this topic than just about any other in recent months. From changes to child benefit, housing benefit, pensioner entitlements, employment support and the so called 'benefit cap' the complexity of the issue is bewildering and the number of individuals affected by these changes breathtaking.

As welfare and benefits are reserved matters these changes at Westminster have direct impact on Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has recognised this and set up its own Welfare Reform committee to examine the impacts of these changes for Scottish society and much discussion has taken place with organisations that are directly impacted. In addition the Scottish Parliament is indirectly involved in these changes as housing, local government, health care and local economic development are all devolved matters. Scotland also has an interest in welfare reform as a number of the poorest areas in the UK are located here, particularly around Glasgow and the west, where higher than average numbers of people are claiming at least one benefit.

As Christians we look to have an authentic and prophetic voice in the great social issues of our day and just this week the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has intervened in the UK debate. This followed the intervention of the other English bishops in a Children's Society campaign supported by the Evangelical Alliance amongst others.

However in Scotland this voice seems less and our churches and wider civic society seem less engaged than down south. There may be a number of reasons for this. Perhaps it is because this issue is being dealt with at Westminster so is seen as being less relevant to Scotland.Perhaps it is because our national constitutional debate is dominating our public life. Or perhaps we are just used to poverty and so are apathetic to try and change our nation.

And yet we know that our churches are engaged. Just this week Falkirk Foodbank has been in the news as ten evangelical churches in the area came together to meet a pressing social need. Evangelical Alliance member organisations such as Bethany Christian Trust and Glasgow City Mission pick up the pieces of lives destroyed by unemployment, addiction and in so doing gain the trust of local authorities and the Scottish Government. Last week one of our team also met with a Church of Scotland minister in Glasgow, who started running the CAP Money course specifically to help those affected by the change from weekly to monthly benefit payments, as he sees the effect that this will have.

Finding our voice

So it seems then that the Scottish church is engaged deeply in these complex issues, as it ought to be. But we also need to speak.God's people after all have always been called to "Speak up for those who have no voice" (Proverbs 31:8), to challenge selfishness, injustice and materialism (Mark 10:17-22), and to ensure that the vulnerable are looked after in a dignified way as befitting those made in the image of God.

As the Scottish church continues to engage in these complex and difficult issues it is important that our voice is heard and that we stand up for truth, righteousness and justice. Our advocacy is at its best when we do not advocate on our own behalf but rather for those whom we serve. As our churches are often the only community grouping in our poorer areas it is all the more vital that these overlooked communities are given a voice.

At the Evangelical Alliance Scotland we want to encourage the Scottish church to be that prophetic voice and we are looking for stories and examples of where the church is already engaging with Scottish communities on issues of poverty and welfare. We would be delighted to hear from you if you are involved in a social action project serving your community and sharing the love of Christ. Please call our office (0141 548 1555) or contact k.turner@eauk.org to tell us your story so we can bring your voice, and those you represent, to our national public life.