Our Pastoral Area Working Group spent last Tuesday evening hearing about the way the changes in the benefit system are affecting the poorest families in our community, reflecting on how we are responding to these needs as a community and wondering what more we can do.
Our parish was involved in setting up the Credit Union many years ago, we now have the Debt Advice service based here and we are part of the Foodbank system. The Mother of Mercy group, working from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, takes food, friendship and prayer to homeless people in the city centre every week. All of these are really important and make a difference to the lives of people who are struggling.
Many of our parishioners, through their work or as volunteers, are engaged in addressing social problem, but there is much more we could do, as a parish community, with our Christian neighbours and with other community groups. One great Catholic tradition, the St Vincent de Paul Society, has almost died out in our area, because of a lack of volunteers.
Catholic Social Teaching says that we should first listen to those who are affected, and ask questions like: What is really happening? Who is gaining and who is losing? Why is this happening? The PAWG will be asking these questions and gathering information before we meet again in September.
Perhaps the first thing we need to do is to challenge the prejudice that brands all benefit claimants as shirkers and skivers. Two facts we learned on Tuesday are not often reported: only 33% of the benefit budget is spent on the unemployed, and only 0.7% of claims are fraudulent.
Pope Francis has urged us to become a Church of and for the poor. That is a tough challenge, but it is the work for which the Lord needs labourers today.