Bishop Nigel’s recent article in Dundee Courier - Will budget bring us any cheer at all?
Published Tuesday 19th March 2013
It will be interesting to see what Chancellor George Osborne has in his forthcoming Budget to cheer us up. Selfishly a reduction in the duty on a pint of real ale would touch the spot nicely. More seriously though, what can he do to stave off a third recession since the financial crisis of 2008?
The economic recovery plan is not working and none of our political parties in Westminster or Edinburgh seems able to offer fresh ideas or a convincing roadmap. There are simply too many negative signals around. And in Scotland it is as though everything at present has to be discussed through the lens of the Referendum.
The promised return of failed banks like RBS, now owned by the UK taxpayer, to the commercial sector is delayed. Banks seem reluctant to encourage customers or the economy and their bonus culture remains in place if somewhat muted.
We are assured that the welfare benefit reforms are progressive but they appear ill-considered with poor consequences which render the lives of the vulnerable less secure. The partial climb down on the so-called bedroom tax is just the latest fiasco.
The idea of capping Child Benefit for hard working young households with jobs, children and mortgages does little to encourage the family lives of those with most to contribute to the social economy.
Fuel costs are a widespread anxiety this winter, while energy company profits continue to rise. If people are cold and families are not eating properly there are inevitable health consequences. Every Sunday the Food Cupboard at St Salvador’s Church Dundee provides basic food and household essentials to seventy particularly needy individuals, a number which has doubled in the past twelve months. It’s not the only busy food bank in the city.
And to cap a run of dismal stories, it is suggested that some hospitals are unsafe for the elderly and vulnerable, and operations cancelled because of an unreliable supply of sterile surgical instruments.
No, I am not a political economist and yes, I understand the inherent complexity of housekeeping our national revenues and borrowing within a global economy. But like everyone else in Courier country I manage a household budget and it’s fine choosing what to give up for Lent, but quite a different prospect if cuts are being forced upon us.
A noticeably widening gap between the rich and poor is not a good basis on which to build cohesive communities. We’re only all in this together when we acknowledge we really are all in. That’s what the term commonwealth means. We require convincing leadership and effective governance that is compassionate and tough – working for the common good rather than special interests.
So what might I do if I were Chancellor and it were my budget? Well, forget what I said about real ale. Give hope to the vulnerable, encourage entrepreneurs, invest in young people and convince those with influence to set a better example. It’s perhaps what Jesus would have had in mind.