19 October 2010

We will judge spending cuts on how they affect the most vulnerable, says Methodist president

Addressing a rally organised by the Trade Union Congress today, Revd Alison Tomlin, President of the Methodist Conference, raised concerns that spending cuts will hit the poor hardest.

Speaking on the eve of the comprehensive spending review at Methodist Central Hall Westminster, Alison said; "The past ten to fifteen years of boom benefited some sections of society but not the poorest. Relatively their income went down. Justice or, to use that popular word, 'fairness' demand that they do not suffer now during the bust.

"Earlier this month Eric Pickles asked us to judge the government on how they treated the most vulnerable. That we will do.

"The task the government has set itself of cutting the deficit to zero in a short space of time while not harming the most vulnerable is a difficult one, some may say an impossible one. We shall wait and see but the initial signs are not promising.

"Brief conversations with colleagues highlight the fears that they have for the work going on in the communities they serve. The people whose compassion and hard work have created and sustained each of these projects will not be sleeping well tonight. And they will rightly be wondering about the meaning of the phrase "Big Society".

Alison concluded: "John Wesley, and the Methodist Church he founded, believe it is inconceivable to follow Christ and not have the welfare of the poor and the vulnerable close to your heart, and we are proud to stand beside others who share those concerns today."

The full text of Alison's address follows:

"You may not have noticed but this but you are sitting in a Methodist Church, where a vibrant multi-cultural congregation meet each Sunday. When you came in on the first floor on your left there was a life size statue of John Wesley the founder of the Methodist Church. You may have missed it - he was a very short man.

"In his journals he wrote about a press that stigmatised the poor, he wrote of politicians who did not wish to look at the concerns of the poor, and who continually blamed the poor for their own fate. He wrote of people using that stigma and blame to continually treat the poorest and most vulnerable badly. Thanks goodness that was 250 years ago and could never happen now!

"The past ten to fifteen years of boom benefited some sections of society but not the poorest. Relatively their income went down. Justice or, to use that popular word, 'fairness' demand that they do not suffer now during the bust.

"Earlier this month Eric Pickles asked us to judge the government on how they treated the most vulnerable. That we will do.

"The task the government has set itself of cutting the deficit to zero in a short space of time while not harming the most vulnerable is a difficult one, some may say an impossible one. We shall wait and see but the initial signs are not promising.

"Brief conversations with colleagues highlight the fears that they have for the work going on in the communities they serve. Local authorities and others are tightening their belts prior to the CSR. Just in the last week I have been told about
• an emergency housing project in Birmingham at threat
• a project in Newcastle working with women seeking sanctuary
• a young offender rehabilitation project in Liverpool wondering if it must close

"The church is grateful to be able to work with these and hundreds of other projects like them up and down the country. The people whose compassion and hard work have created and sustained each of these projects will not be sleeping well tonight. And they will rightly be wondering about the meaning of the phrase "Big Society".

"This building was built a hundred years ago using money donated by ordinary Methodists. To ensure this was a building of ordinary people initially no-one was allowed to donate more than one guinea. Rich and the poor alike. In the historic roll, which you can see on the left as you leave the building, the names of all the people who gave one guinea, including my grandparents, are recorded.

"This hall was built because Methodists believed that ordinary people, people who could afford no more than one guinea, should have a voice in the heart of Westminster. Hearing today's contributions, the stories of ordinary people, the concern for ordinary people, I am confident my grandparents would have felt that theirs was a guinea well spent.

"Methodists support a wide range of views about deficit reduction. It is possible to be a Christian and a member of almost any political party. John Wesley and the Methodist Church he founded, believe it is inconceivable to follow Christ and not have the welfare of the poor and the vulnerable close to your heart, and we are proud to stand beside others who share those concerns today."

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