There are many passages in the Bible which give priority to and urge compassion for the poor.
It is a commitment shared with many other faiths. That is why faith leaders throughout Scotland have come together to issue a joint statement in Challenge Poverty Week both highlighting the plight of many of our fellow citizens and urging action at all levels of government to meet these most pressing needs and challenges.
It is always tempting when discussing this issue to resort to statistics to highlight the reality of poverty in our country. I try, however, not to de-personalise the reality. For the reality is some families facing the dilemma of whether to eat or heat; parents going without to ensure their children can go to school adequately shod; or people in low paid employment juggling their finances and making sacrifices to afford fares to travel to their work.
For many, the £20 cut in this past week of Universal Credit will be body blow causing even more anxiety.
But one of the messages we are aiming to put across is that it needn’t be like this. With vision and determined commitment, it must be possible to identify and pursue solutions.
Some immediate actions would help, such as the immediate doubling of the Scottish Child Payment rather than doing so over the lifetime of the Scottish Parliament. The fuel supply issue in recent days has highlighted the need to address fuel poverty, whilst some imaginative thinking can lead to a more affordable and extended network of ‘green’ public transport in both rural and urban Scotland.
The concept of a ‘Jubilee’ has sound Biblical origins. Against a background of many households bearing an ever-increasing burden of debt, due to the covid lockdown, a number of Churches have supported a call for the Chancellor to establish a Jubilee Fund to help pay off or cancel debts accrued during the pandemic and allow these families to get back on to an even keel.
Looking further ahead, the Scottish Government should be supported in its initiative to explore a Minimum Income Guarantee.
There is no shortage of ideas. What we would like to see is urgent action to rise to the challenge.
Of course, this call is made against a background of Scotland being able to show to the world, next month, that our concern for social justice is linked to climate justice. We recognise that much of the destructive impact of climate change falls on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.
Our compassion and our commitment to a just and green future compels us to try and ensure that their needs are properly addressed in Glasgow at COP26. But just as covid-19 disproportionately impacted on poorer communities at home, our concern must be that climate change will also do so, at home and around the world.
If we are going to be bold enough to re-think our economy and public services to mitigate the climate emergency, surely that can go hand-in-hand with a re-design which can tackle poverty and so respect the dignity and worth of all.
Lord Jim Wallace is the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland