The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, has made a small but significant contribution to a debate on Welfare Reform at the Church of England?s Governing Body, the General Synod. He moved and won an amendment to the motion, debated last night, Sunday 7th July.
??The Synod approved a motion calling for a ?renewed settlement between the state, the churches and civil society?, and for ?close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable, and for support for those not in a position to support themselves?. The report before the Synod, Welfare Reform and the Church (GS 1897) describes the present balance between state and voluntary action as having become distorted and comments that, contrary to the apparent direction of policy in the early days of the Coalition, ?three years on we have seen very little of The Big Society in policy or practical terms.?
??Opening debate on the motion, the proposer, Mr Philip Fletcher, said: ?We don?t claim? that the whole responsibility for the welfare of our citizens should fall on the shoulders of the state ? on the contrary, we would welcome a properly thought-through settlement between the state and the voluntary structures of society, including the Church, as a way of building up communities and promoting neighbourliness.?
??The Bishop, who has spoken in the past about welfare cuts falling disproportionately on the poor, successfully moved his amendment inviting the Church to bring its proposals for how the Church might contribute to the new settlement to next summer?s meeting of the General Synod. It was accepted by the Synod and had the effect of changing what he said were otherwise ?only a set of aspirations,? into ?a plan of action.?
???The motion was also amended by other members of the Synod. The full text of the amended motion as passed was:
?? ?That this Synod, recognising that in times of austerity hard choices must be made between competing priorities, and acknowledging that reform of welfare systems is essential:
??- affirm the need for a renewed settlement between the state, the churches and civil society in pursuit of social solidarity and the common good;
??- invite the MPA Council to consider how the Church of England can better contribute to this new settlement, making recommendations to the General Synod by July 2014;
??- encourage Her Majesty?s Government to found such reform on the principle of a bias towards the poor;
??- call on politicians and pay close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable, and call for support for those not in a position to support themselves and, in doing so, to consider whether the ring-fenced provision of universal benefits may be becoming the enemy of targeted benefits;
??- decry the misleading characterisation of all welfare recipients as ?scroungers?; and
??- commend those across the churches who are working to support those most in need.?
??Churches in the St Albans District, just as across the whole Diocese of St Albans covering Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, are involved in a large number of projects which promote the common good ? from caring for those who are homeless through Sleepout at St Albans Abbey, to the Living Room project for those suffering addictions, to the more everyday but still vital contributions in the form of lunch clubs for the elderly or mothers and toddlers groups which take place in church halls around the district. There is also a project to create a foodbank in the District in which there is local church involvement.
??The report Welfare Reform and the Church and its annexes are available here:???http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1782996/gs%201897%20-%20welfare%20reform%20and%20the%20church.pdf