In his latest book Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby writes: “Austerity is a theory for the rich and a reality of suffering for the poor.” In his Guardian review, former Bishop of Oxford Lord Harries writes: “He is not afraid to argue for specific policy priorities. On health, for example, he believes our priorities should now be the neglected areas of public health, mental health and social care, with a particular attention to prisons, where the problems are so stark and shocking.”
The heartless rich are, of course, the Tories who bludgeoned the country with as decade of callous fiscal indifference, and the poor are those who visit food-banks and vote Labour. As George Osborne and David Cameron pat themselves on the back that (thanks to their heartlessness) the deficit has been eradicated and the nation is once again earning more than it spends, Justin Welby appears to be oblivious to the fact the nation’s public health, mental health and social care (not to mention prisons) are very much Theresa May’s priorities. It is easy to call for increased spending (which is actually there, including for mental health), but if the Church of England were spending more than had coming in, the Archbishop of Canterbury would be the first to criticise the Church Commissioners and argue for cuts. He said of Guildford Cathedral’s £100k annual deficit: “It is sometimes said that cathedrals are the Church of England’s equivalent of the big banks – ‘too big to fail’ – and that the very serious financial straits that are one of the motivating factors for Guildford pursuing this application are not so serious because the central church would ‘rescue’ them before total collapse. This is not the case.”
If a worshipping community may be callously deprived of its Anglican heart over a mere £100k deficit, what should a nation forego when its deficit is £18.2bn?
This ‘theory for the rich’ trope is such a crass caricature, redolent of the sort of ‘nasty party’ sneers so typical of many CofE clergy:
And on and on.
Austerity isn’t a theory for the rich: frugality and the avoidance of debt are Christian virtues: ‘Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law‘ (Rom 13:8); ‘The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth‘ (Ps 37:21).
Or perhaps these are scriptures for the rich, while the poor are exhorted to go on suffering: ‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need‘ (Phil 4:12); ‘Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee‘ (Heb 13:5).
Doesn’t the Archbishop of Canterbury care that the national debt represents £60,000 for every household in the country? Doesn’t he care that it costs £50 billion a year to service in interest? Doesn’t he care about budget responsibility? Or is all this just cold-hearted economic theory; a pastime for right-wing populist bloggers, who are (by definition) completely indifferent to the the plight of the poor, hungry and homeless?