Reading the main news stories this morning, as I do most mornings, I came across this article in The Telegraph concerning a reply written by the prime minister David Cameron to the Archbishop of Westminster’s claims that new welfare reforms were a “disgrace” and were leaving people “in hunger and destitution.”
The first line of Cameron’s reply is interesting. He states that although it was “sometimes said that the Church should not get involved in politics,” he disagreed on the basis that many modern political questions were also moral questions. Well I would certainly agree with the last half of that sentence. And although it is my personal belief that a strict separation of church and state is absolutely necessary for a free and equal society, and that human beings do not need any organised religion to teach them moral values or give them a basic understanding of right from wrong, it is still nontheless true that the opinions of religious leaders can – for many – hold a great deal of sway when it comes to issues of morality.
Which is why, despite my own atheism, I still view it as very much for the good that an Archbishop such as Vincent Nichols has stepped foward to state the obvious: that in a wealthy country such as the UK, it is morally indefensible that anybody should be left to go hungry. Fairly basic stuff one would have thought.
And yet this is what is happening all around us. As a result of the governments welfare reforms we are seeing the UK’s biggest ever increase in the use of food banks; six percent of doctors now report seeing a patient who has either committed or attempted suicide due to fear of work capability assessments, and 50,000 more children are expected to be plunged into poverty in Scotland alone.
Which is why I found myself reading David Cameron’s rebuttal with increasing disbelief. His language full of perceived, principled righteousness, he talked of being on a “moral mission,” of “doing what was right,” and of “giving new hope” to those currently struggling below the breadline. Stressing the moral soundness of his approach at every opportunity, he denied that anyone genuinely in need would suffer abandonment or hardship under the new reforms.
But the evidence already exists to prove these claims untrue. Listening to Cameron and his apparent ability to simultaneously believe in two completely contradictory ideas, one is reminded of the Orwellian concept of Doublethink. It is irrefutable, for example, that in the year 2014, already poor and vulnerable families are being forced in ever increasing numbers to rely on foodbanks in order to avoid starvation. Our prime minister can’t not know this. And yet he is able to press on with ever more punitive reforms, even claiming that they are a source of new opportunity and hope, seemingly secure in the belief that he is a good and moral person who adheres to “the principle that we have to regard and treat every single person with respect”.
Does he really believe this? Honestly? Could he possibly be so out of touch with reality? Or is the truth that he is simply intent on pushing forward a right-wing ideology come what may? If that is the case, then not only is he waging a war against the most vulnerable members of our society, but he is lying about it.
And my smallest child, despite barely ever having stepped foot inside a church her whole life, does not need any supposed moral authority to tell her just how wicked that truly is.