In politics the grand scheme of things may sometimes be clear, but its local and personal implications are often dire. Take current proposals for benefits reform. David Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith (IDS) are trying to reform the system, by empowering people on the one hand and reducing their dependence on the state on the other. The aim is laudable but the consequences potentially disastrous.
This is where the Archbishop of Canterbury entered the fray. While his brush in including education was too broad and his political sense lacking, and his supporters like the Bishop of Guildford bumbling, nonetheless he had truth on his side. Child poverty will rise, benefits for the unemployed will be cut, the disabled will be tested and interviewed to check if they’re capable of work. There’s a distinction of course between being available for work and work being available for you to do. Many disabled people would like to work – but where and for who?
IDS may be right that poverty as such is not the real problem. For him, it’s the dependency culture. But that’s an easy phrase and breaking it may have a devastating effect on ordinary people. That is the level at which priests, carers and social workers operate – they, not IDS, will feel the hurt.
We may judge people in their millions and judge they need to change. But each person has his or her own challenges and crises, involving everything from self-esteem to sanity. Policy has to work at that level too. How do we balance the requirements of basic humanity against the inevitability of change, all the cares and hurts and challenges and anxieties that make up our lives against the simple fact that where many of us are now is simply not a good place to be?
There is no easy solution. Each needs to be open to the other’s point of view. Change can be positive but it needs to be that way at all levels. If change is only seen as a negative, as taking away, then it won’t happen. That for Cameron and IDS is the great danger.