It wasnt that long ago in the hiatus of Tony Blairs government, especially living in the north, or in Scotland that things seemed to be on the up. I remember going to Polmont (young offenders) Prison with college for a field trip on our social policy lecture where they said that it had only been since 1997 that they had had any money for maintenance and rebuilding the post war/victorian jail structure. For 19 years 1978-1997, theyd had virtually diddly-squat. At that time, or at least just after it there had been stories on the news about primary schools using damp buildings, very old hospital buildings across the country, with under investment.
During that same time, a slightly left focussed church left its social concern to charities or its liberal wing, or agencies deemed para or ‘not evangelistic’ enough, such as YMCA’,s or FYT, and got on with trying to increase church numbers. There wasnt a fight it needed to have, because largely the british government, albeit with a few gaps, was doing the welfare bit, it may have bred governmental reliance, but tax credits were introduced, as were other benefits. The church didnt need to fight against something, because it didnt really need to or have to encounter its community- others were doing it for it. Its gap was in its own ghetto. Though there were niches of practice, where the state couldnt reach, or couldnt resource.
From a youthwork perspective, the reflection afterwards was that during the Blair/labour years that the philosophy of youthwork was being ‘used’ as an aide to help young people into work, or as part of a CCTV/surveillance culture with its data collecting, and not the ‘pure’ inclusive, educational, conversational practice it could be. But now, those days were heady.
Fast forward to now. 5 years have felt a long time. Personally some of them have been pretty rubbish at times, but id still consider myself one of the lucky ones, to a) be in work, and b) now be back in the north east and be in work. Yet in the last 5 years, the church has been able to forge a space where it is profoundly needed on a national scale. The church can be criticised for seemingly only wanting to do social action for its own need or evangelism, but by and large Food banks have been local acts of food sharing and kindness across the whole of the UK that have benefitted all and an actual need, there are other more local, and less publicised actions too, but none that have become as political a fodder. I wonder – though- how many foodbank users were actively encouraged to vote? or to view their current plight in the wider political and social system?
However, some of this is less ‘what next’ – neither is it ‘why’ either, though for the ‘why’ of the general election result, you’d only need to read through the #ge2015 hashtag, and see the graphs of swings. But reflections on the what next?
Well firstly, not only were the polls wrong, social media was wrong too. At least the version of it that looked like the bit im in. See i like and follow people who generally like and follow me, similar youthworkers, family, friends – my social media world, and what appears on my profile and news feeds is about the things i tend to like or agree with. Id go as far to say that Social media during the election didnt change many peoples voting habits, or the election. Because it feels as though even though 2,000,000 people said they voted on Facebook. Thats an awful lot of the electorate who voted who werent on there, or who abstained. Is it influential at all to like, to quote or to share articles? maybe itll instill views for those interested enough to read them, but what difference did it make overall, or did those of us, myself included become deluded in our own fantasy that we were making a difference, even though only 100 people might read a 140 character statement, even less people will read this. It just helps me, and other people like me who write these things feel like theyre doing something, helping an ongoing conversation continue.
So what next?
The church, its allies and the voluntary sector still have the space and need and mandate to fill even bigger gaps in the welfare system, but why should it? and where might these resources come from?
Should the church fill the widening gaps in welfare provision, housing, libraries and health? it used to, but also it used to in a position of strength of numbers, of altruism, and resource, and well before it had to comply with policies, procedures, commissioning groups and funding. churches struggle to look after their own young people without getting in a professional or student or intern at times, so often forget young people who they dont know or bother with the need outside its building. Will long term change only happen when the church critiques the ideology of the government – rather than complies with it, filling the gaps and fulfilling its own social conscience?
This hasnt really been about moving from the ‘Why?’ to the ‘What next?’ in the way that id have liked to, what next might look different depending where you live and your perspective now. ‘what next’ is maybe too pragmatic, too solution focussed a question. How do we get to what’s next – through times of sharing, grief and reflection- through anger, frustration and despondency – through collective spirit and urgency, all of the above, might help in getting to the whats next, but What’s next for me, whats next for the young people i know, for the families i know, for the town i live in, and the city i work in, for the church.
What does God require of us, to act (justly), to love (mercy) and to walk (humbly before our God). (Micah 6:8)
To be givers of life, to be forgivers, to present the political, compassionate, transforming Christ
Today people have taken to the streets of London, to vocalise their frustration of the election of a Conervstive majority. The established media has blacked it out. As Foucault said, “Power is everywhere.” – yet at the same time, for those who are disabled, on benefits, have mental health issues, Power is nowhere.