Election '97: Churches shocked by inequity

Wherever we went we saw increasing riches and poverty. It is wrong
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The Independent Online
Church leaders said yesterday they were "shocked and saddened" by what they saw as they travelled around Britain and Ireland researching their study on the future of work. The contrast between the favoured majority and the excluded minority should not be tolerated, they said: "Wherever we went we saw increasing riches and poverty side by side. It is wrong, in such prosperous times as ours, for men and women to be deprived for long periods of the chance to earn their living."

The Bible

The report quotes the Bible and says people should beware of worshipping false gods, "including such modern idols as political dogma or the market economy".

The list also includes the idea of the "jubilee" when "debts are cancelled and slaves are set free," and the need for people to show "a generous spirit, and not pursue economic advantage to the limit". It adds that only a just and caring society can achieve real, lasting prosperity and that both suffering and fortune should be shared.

Unemployment and poverty

Real unemployment is twice as high as the level shown in official figures, the report says. The number of people who had no job and who wanted one was around 4.5 million last summer, while government figures stood at about half that number.

Between 1979 and 1994, average household incomes rose by 40 per cent more than inflation, but for the poorest 10 per cent of households they fell by 13 per cent.

Society is divided between prosperous people and those who are unemployed or in temporary, insecure work. Most unemployed people desperately want work, and many become isolated and depressed.

The market should not be left to sort out the problem - that leads to low wages. The weakening of trade union power also explains the increase in poverty.

Although the public say unemployment is a great evil, public opinion has not been effectively mobilised to demand a remedy. "What is lacking is a sense of community, such as we had during the Second World War and for a generation afterwards."

Expanding employment

Jobs should be created in the public sector, in health, education and community care, housing and construction. This should be paid for mainly through higher taxation: the ratio of tax to national income in Britain is lower than in most European countries. It could be raised without causing serious harm to the economy. "There is a Christian case for redistributive taxation, based on both justice and compassion, which we support," the report says.

Employers' National Insurance contributions could be cut, or abolished, for unskilled jobs. Real jobs in the community should be created, funded partly through public spending.

Fair pay and conditions

There should be a statutory minimum wage: "We find the very low rates of pay now being offered unjust and offensive to human dignity." Employees should have protection against unfair dismissal after a short period, probably a few months.

Benefits

"We do not believe that the level of benefits paid in Britain today is generally adequate to support a decent standard of life." The only reasonable solution is to get people off benefit by increasing employment.

Who wrote the report

Working party:

Chairman: Patrick Coldstream, former director of Council for Industry and HE

Exec Sec: Andrew Britton, former director of NIESR

Members:

Rev Bill Allen, director of pastoral studies at Spurgeon's College

Clive Brooke, joint-general secretary, PTC tax union

Margaret Burns, Council for Social Welfare

John Cole, former political editor, BBC

Gabrielle Cox, co-ordinator greater Manchester Low Pay Unit

Rev Erik Cramb, Industrial mission in Scotland

Ricky Davies, director of management services of Associated Church clubs

Alan Deacon, prof of social policy, Uni of Leeds

Kumar Jacob, Criterion Software

Dr Eleanor James, chair of Wales Rural Forum

Rev Dian Leppington, Industrial mission in Leeds

Rt Rev Dr Peter Selby, bishop-designate of Worcester

Tony Stoughton-Harris, dep chair of S Electricity

Dr Ntombenhle Protasia Khoti Torkington, sociologist, Liverpool Hope University College.

Sponsoring party:

Chairman: Rt Rev David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool

Secretary: Ruth Badger, Board for Social Responsibility, Church House

Members: Marion Beales, Free Church Federal Council

Rt Rev Michael Bourke (C of E)

Ruth Clarke (United Reformed Church)

Ven John Davies (CYTUN - Churches in Wales)

Lady Marion Fraser (Church of Scotland)

Rev Robin Hutt (Methodist)

Rev Simon Jones (Baptist Union)

Rt Rev John Jukes (RC)

Hugh Mellor (Society of Friends)

Rev Mark Nicholson (Black Majority Churches)

Rt Rev Dr Gordon McMullan (Church of Ireland)

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