I've come on a bit strong, so haven't emailed this to everybody, as it's your group... What do you think?
On Wednesday I spoke again to Carol, who has now left The Vaughn Centre, having taken redundancy. Her concern remains advocacy for vulnerable people: ' Shelter' has gone from our city and Legal support drastically cut. Who's left to speak out on behalf of the people these agencies protected?
Carol would like to correct one issue I raised in my last mail, The Vaughn Centre remains open (except Thursdays) all day for rough sleepers, though with reduced facilities. Vaughn Centre staff no longer have the capacity to provide the 'Open House', for all who need it, that it once was. We should, I feel, commend them for what they are achieving, and help them in their campaign to raise more money to replace the lost grants. Former clients have asked to help with this aspect, and are in the process of putting together a petition.
Carol is concerned, as are we all, I think, about the rule changes regarding switching from illness-related benefit to Job Seekers Allowance following medical re-assessment. Formerly, there was a simple two-minute appeal form to fill in that Carol would do, that at least ensured money would be coming in whilst the appeal was pending. That is no longer the case. Sick people have their benefits cut immediately, and are faced with a 4-6 week wait for their appeal to be heard. (90% of appeals are ultimately successful), which means that clients are faced with lying ie declaring themselves fit for work when they are not, (then subsequently failing to comply with the jobseekers regime and being sanctioned) or going hungry.
I spoke to one gentlemen who was declared fit for work despite undergoing treatment for bowel cancer. You CAN work whilst undergoing chemotherapy, apparently. His appeal was upheld.
Other agencies are feeling the pinch and having to make changes that will impact the poorest. We are being told (Mike. Curtis has heard independently of my source) that agencies that provide housing support have lost 2/3 of their funding and dozens of clients have to be re-housed by June - largely with private landlords some of whom have a poor reputation. (I have moderated my speech considerably here: the front-line worker who spoke to me used very strong language. I have no wish to put something in an email that might bring this forum into disrepute, but I want, nevertheless to record the strength of feeling.)
i have been asked repeatedly, "What can the. Churches do?" Many of us, however we vote, are thinking that we didn't expect this onslaught against those in society whom the gospel calls on us to protect and defend. This is not a dualistic right/left squabble over party politics, it's a matter of justice, and one where I believe the churches, taking this stand, can be very influential.
Keeping the topic at the front of public concern is great. Church leaders of all our denominations are doing this and our unity is VERY powerful.
I am thinking of the literal meaning of the word, 'martyr' (witness) I become this militant because i was there at The Vaughn Centre when the changes were announced. I saw the anguish and heard the hopelessness.
'Come and see - go and hear. Then tell the stories'
How about accompanying someone to the Job Centre to observe their treatment? Or to one of those medical examinations, or an appeal? I think there would be a double effect ( before we're barred?) Sweet, middle-class polite people like us will ensure our people are treated properly, and if they aren't, we can quietly protest and then report it. They don't you see. That's the trouble. They don't because they don't believe anyone will listen to them, and that nothing will change.
Help the Vaughn Centre to raise money to restore it's function as a drop in centre.
Find out how the other agencies are coping (P3 for example) and support them too.
Find out the truth behind the rumours about the private landlords. Visit some of the properties and lobby for the enforcement of standards, where they are not met..
Pray. Alone. Together. Privately. Fervently. Sacrificially. Silently. Out loud. Publicly. Every way. All the time.
Pope Francis has invited we Catholics to get out on the streets and BE a church for the poor. I think it's a message that the Spirit is bringing to all the churches. A story from the last Papal Election that might be apocryphal, but is nevertheless prophetic: Picture the famous Leigh Hunt portrait of Christ knocking on the door to get in. Re-imagine it: Jesus at the door of your church, my church, knocking to get out.
We Christians know that persecution is coming. When I looked into the faces of those men and women at The Vaughn Centre and heard Carol's sense of helplessness, I saw that it is already here. It starts where it always does, with those least able to resist it.
PS The Cathedral Vigil for the hungry is Sun 6th April - Mon 7th April 8am -8am