Today is the 1st June. Seriously, where did May go? I think May was probably the shortest month of my life. I blinked and it was gone. Did anything happen in May, apart from the Council and European elections, Manchester City winning the Premiership, Arsenal winning the FA Cup, Real Madrid winning the Champions League, Carl Froch beating George Groves at the biggest boxing match in decades and most importantly of all, my sons Watling FC Under 14 youth team winning division 4 of the Harrow Youth League?
As it is the first Sunday of the month, my Church, the Sacred Heart in Mill Hill are having the monthly foodbank collection for Colindale Food bank. You can find out more about the Colindale food bank here - http://colindale.foodbank.org.uk/ and if you want to know what sort of items to donate click here - http://colindale.foodbank.org.uk/resources/documents/foodbank/Colindale-FB-website-shopping-list.pdf - details of how you can donate food directly are on the website. If you are in Mill Hill and are moved to help, please just bring the items to the Sacred Heart Church today, before or after masses (11.30am and 6pm) or leave at the adjoining presbetery. For anyone who may be wondering, the Church simply collect the food and delivers it to the foodbank. You don't have to have any allegiance to anything except a bit of compassion for those less well off.
Now personally I think it is appalling that we have a stuation where people need to rely on foodbanks to survive in the UK. We are the sixth richest country in the world and in Barnet the average price of a house is over £300,000. This means that when I walk from the station, to my home at number 29, I've walked past £9 million worth of property. Given these sorts of prices, it is not surprising that some people in our neighbourhood cannot afford even basic accomodation. At the end of April, I volunteered to spend a night at the Mill Hill Churches Homeless Night Shelter, housed at John Keeble Church. The job was simple. I turned up, had a cup of tea and a chat with some of the other volunteers and the ten homeless people being housed. Then I bedded down for the night, leaving at 6.30am when the morning shift turned up. Local people had donated food and drinks. Although the Mill Hill Shelter was coordinated by Mill Hill Churches, the wider scheme coordinated by Homeless Action in Barnet (HAB). This has also involved synogogues, churches, Mosques and other groups. I believe in communities coming together. Some people view churches and other religious institutions with a degree of cynicism. In many ways this is understandable, given some of the things we've seen in the world, but I believe that such organisations should be completely dedicated to the wellbeing of our local and wider community. I believe that church buildings etc are community resources and should be the centre of our community. Hosting youth activities such as Scout & Guide groups and Homeless centres give life to the community. It is my view that anyone who attends a church/synogogue/mosque and doesn't contribute to the community is a hypocrite. I was asked by a Humanist friend whether I would support a Humanist Centre which provided facilities for homeless people, scout groups and other community activities. As far as I am concerned good has no boundaries and the question was a silly one. I see all of these boundaries and groupings as artificial.
We are all on a journey. Each of us takes a different route. I have no dount that a Humanist who works tirelessly for the community, helping in foodbanks, homeless projects or other such things is a far better person than an adherent of faith who simply turns up and says a few prayers on a weekly basis.
I volunteer on a weekly basis for the Passage (http://passage.org.uk/), which is a homeless day centre in Victoria. Every Thursday, I get up at 6am and am at the Passage at 7.15am to do the breakfast shift. We give 50-150 homeless a cooked breakfast every day. The clients of the Passage are a diverse bunch. Although compassion should be universal, it especially troubles me just how many ex members of the British Armed Forces are homeless. For many they feel their lives ended the day they left the army. I suspect many are suffering various degrees of PTS. Other countries do not treat their ex servicepeople in the way the UK does. I happen to think that it is criminal that injured soldiers have to rely on charity handouts from organisations such as "Help for Heroes" for absolute basics.
So here we are, one of the richest countries in the world and what do we have?
People relying on charity handouts from foodbanks to feed their families
People sleeping rough because they can't afford a roof over their heads
Injured ex servicepeople relying on charity to reintegrate into society
At the Euro elections we saw UKIP score the highest vote on a turnout of 34%. What does all of this tell us. The lessons are disturbing. It tells me that two thirds of the British Electorate either don't care or believe that the system is so completely unjust that it isn't worth bothering to vote. It tells me that we are a greedy society that puts having a cup of coffee at Starbucks above caring for injured servicemen, families without the cash to feed themselves and people sleeping rough. The truth is that if every person in the Uk paid a bit more tax, equivalent to the cost of a cup of coffee in Starbucks every day, we could sort these problems out. In fact I don't believe we even need to do that. I believe that if we closed all of the loopholes and made multi national companies pay tax on the profits they generate in the UK, we'd probably be able to fix all of this and have a tax cut.
There is a big debate about what sort of benefits people should receive. There is a view, perpetuated by the rightwing press that "benefits dependency" is seen as a career by many, with generations of families never having worked and with no inclination to ever get a job. This is denounced as a "left wing" invention, ignoring the fact that under communism in the USSR such lifestyles could end with a trip to the Gulag on a charge of parasitism. Now clearly there are problems and everyone should always be better off if they have a job. The trouble is that the method the Coalition are using to deal with the issue resembles a surgeon being given an axe to cut out a tumour. If the benefits system makes them worse off for taking a job, then there is a fundamental flaw in the system, but simply chopping off the benefits simply puts people into a desperate situation, especially if there is no work in the locality. I've thought long and hard about these issues. It is clear to me that a solution for an area like London would not work for an area such as a pit village, where a mine shuts and everyone loses their job. Personally I'd like to see Jobcentres be run by local partnerships. I'd also like to see benefits set at local level. They should be set at a level where people can eat, sleep with a roof over their head and children should be safe, warm and dry. I think families should be entitled by law to one holiday a year, I'm not talking about anything too exotic, just a week away, so kids should be able to have a bit of fun. I'd make family holidays up to £1,000 tax deductable for parents with children up to 18 every two years. For those not in work, I'd have a scheme where breaks could be purchased at no cost to them up to this level. I think anyone who begrudges families a break lacks basic humanity.
And as to employment opportunities. What I'd really like to see is a proper, well thought out, cross party agreement to deal with benefit dependency, from a non political viewpoint. Rather than haphazard schemes, proper studies should be carried out to understand the causes. If we could have a cross party agreement and an approach to have a fair system where people who need benefits get them and those that should pay taxes pay them, it could only be for the good of the UK.
I sincerely hope that one day I wake up on the first Sunday of the month and don't have to plug the foodbank in Colindale, because we don't need it anymore. I'd also love to have a lie in every Thursday rather than go to make toast for the homeless. Is that really to much to ask in sucha rich country?