The letter I wrote to the parishioners of Wokingham in July 2019
As I write this letter, I’m worried about the present state of our life as a country, socially and spiritually. There are many signs of widening gaps and sharpening divisions across Britain between different groups, regions, and points of view. The divisions over
Brexit are an obvious part of that situation.
One recent survey (1) found that public faith in our political system is at an all-time low point. Almost half said they feel that they have no influence at all on the national direction, and 63% agreed that “Britain’s system of government is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful”.
In May the respected research body the Institute for Fiscal Studies launched a major investigation (2) into the different types of inequalities in Britain because more and more it is worrying. The gap between those groups who are doing well and those who are not doing well seems to be widening. Widening inequalities in our society – in pay, wealth, health, access to housing, and opportunities generally – between different groups of people and different areas of the country too – are in danger, says the leader of the investigation, Professor Sir Angus Deaton, of “making a mockery of democracy”. What are called “deaths of despair” – such as from addiction and suicide are rising.
There is growing concern about the mental health of young people in our society now. The Bishop of Oxford has spoken about this. (3) He warned there is a storm in the minds of young people today. Emotional distress in children has increased alarmingly since the start of this century. (4)
Recently the United Nations’ special investigator into extreme poverty and humans rights in the United Kingdom reported he found that “the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have caused so much pain and misery, amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations.” We now have record levels of hunger and homelessness. Life expectancy is falling for some groups in society. There are wide gaps in life expectancy and health between different areas.
It is not only the gaps that are concerning but also the failure of people of different perspectives and points of view to respect the needs and concerns of others. For example, the Government rejected outright the findings of the UN inspection instead of acknowledging there are truths contained within it and genuine concerns.
The analysis of economic statistics is complicated. So, it is always possible for anyone to pick up one set of numbers to make their point rather than listening to all the information that we have. It is not difficult for some to claim that almost everyone is doing fine and people’s lives have never been better; yet ignoring the struggles many people are facing. It’s easy also to claim that everything is going wrong when there are many good aspects of life in Britain too.
Nonetheless, I’m worried that there are too many and increasing gaps and divisive attitudes which are causing harm to our social and spiritual life as a country; and which are not being dealt with. A feeling of not being heard or valued – of having no say or influence in our lives – can lead to anger which comes out in many ways.
As I write we don’t know yet, but it seems very possible that
the next Prime Minister of our country could be Boris Johnson. At a time when we need to heal divisions, to promote greater equality and mutual respect in our society, some people are promoting a man for the top political job who has a record of gratuitously insulting different groups. (5) This is very concerning. This is about more than whether you need to be a “nice person” to be PM. Words have consequences. A politician who has insulted and mocked others for their appearance, their sexuality or their religious customs sets an atmosphere which does nothing to discourage and may encourage, criminal behaviour in those who harbour hatred towards people of different ethnic or faith backgrounds from themselves. It is an atmosphere which breeds divisions rather than heals them. It is also sending a signal to society that bullying behaviours are acceptable if they get results. I am praying for a healing of divisions in our country this month.
- Hansard Society: Audit of Political Engagement Report16 – 2019
- Institute for Fiscal Studies: Inequalities in the 21st Century Review
- “I won’t wear makeup on Thursday” Bishop of Oxford Address to Oxford Diocesan Synod 16th March 2019
- NHS 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People in England survey
- Gal-dem.com: A comprehensive history of everything awful Boris Johnson has said