Monday, 31 January 2011

The Writing on The Wall

In the past few days, the press has been presenting us with harsh headlines concerning the state of the economy and the likely impact of the cuts on our society. The picture looks grey. In the last three months of 2010 the UK economy contracted by 0.5% and the number of unemployed claiming job-seekers allowance for more than six months rose by 7,200 to reach 960,300, according to the Office for National Statistics. Consumer expectations and confidence about their future is at a 12 year low.

It has been estimated that as many as 60,000 households in Scotland might be hit by the cuts proposed by the Coalition Government. Many of those affected could risk loosing their homes if the proposed cap on housing benefits gets introduced in Scotland. Shelter Scotland, recently run a seminar on the effects of the proposed cuts with a view to help prevent homelessness. The Chartered Institute of Housing has stated its concerns over the proposed social housing reform stating that it might “stigmatize social housing tenants and weaken communities”.

In the meantime, David Cameron reaffirmed in Davos his ideological commitment to the cuts and George Osborne stated that despite the economy’s contraction, the programme of cuts would not be derailed.

How far does the situation need to escalate before the writing on the wall becomes clear?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Almost 5000 incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland in December alone

Domestic violence in Scotland rose during the festive season. In December alone the police’s Violence Reduction Unit logged 4,783 incidents. Although most victims of domestic abuse are women, it can happen to anyone and affects everyone within the family;  women, children and men. Domestic abuse is very costly not only in terms of psychological harm and loss of self esteem, but also in terms of health service costs, police resources, legal costs and productivity due to absence from work. The Kirk has had a long tradition of highlighting social issues that might lead to domestic abuse and I have writen about the victim’s need for legal aid through this blog.

Over the past year, Scotland has invested heavily in combatting homelessness for victims of sexual abuse, and raising awareness of that fact that males can also be victims of domestic abuse. It is therefore somewhat disappointing, given the statistics and the work of the past year, that £7.5 million of direct funding from the Scottish Government to tackle frontline services in domestic abuse, might be scrapped. It is difficult to find the justification for cuts that will affect services that are supporting the most vulnerable within our society. Is this a case of false economy?

Monday, 24 January 2011

Scotland Bill 2010

The Kirk presented its views on the Scotland Bill 2010 to the Scottish Parliament two weeks ago. The Church of Scotland is neither for nor against independence, but it has in coordination with other churches in Scotland, a long history of engagement and dialogue with the Scottish Parliament and with Westminster. It was therefore interesting to be able to reflect on 10 years of devolution in practice and to participate in a process that following the recommendations of the Calman Commission, sought to strengthen devolution and develop the fiscal accountability of Scotland in terms of tax-raising powers.

What best serves the interests of the people of Scotland? I believe that this question should be answered from the perspective of those at the margins of our society. For the Kirk, social justice is crucial because, tax raising powers should be intimately connected to tackling poverty and inequality. It is an opportunity missed that the Scotland Bill falls short of proposals to further devolve welfare provision and shows little emphasis on social justice.

I think that as a society, we should see taxation not as an imposition by the government, but as a way of sharing what we have, so that everyone’s life can be improved. This goes for us, as individuals as well as for corporations. Direct taxation is always more transparent than indirect taxes, but regardless of the way they get collected, taxation should respond to the need of the weak, contribute to the well-being of the community at large and be levied justly.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Apology of the Minister for Welfare Reform

The Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, has recognised to Church representatives throughout the UK that “the vast majority of benefit recipients are genuinely entitled to the financial support they receive”. Lord Freud wrote to Rev. Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church and other Church representatives across the UK in response to our complaints against grossly inaccurate governmental accounts of the extent of welfare fraud.

The Coalition Government brandished the figure of £5.2 billion as the extent of welfare fraud. From August to November, there was a deluge of negative publicity against welfare recipients, detailing examples of abuse of the benefits system. However, in his letter, Lord Freud, has acknowledged that the £5.2 billion figure was in fact the joint accounting of “fraud and error” and that “this was entirely inadvertent and not in any way intended to mislead. "

It is reassuring that there is recognition that the figures were incorrect; however, public perception about the integrity of people living on benefits has probably been distorted. This is in spite of the fact that Lord Freud recognises that “It is a small minority who choose to abuse the system support by deliberately setting out to defraud it”.

An apology was issued to Church representatives; however who has apologised to the thousands whose integrity was questioned? Lord Freud states he has “asked his officials to take corrective action”. Has anyone heard public announcements correcting and explaining the figures? Have governmental websites been modified?

It is gracious indeed to recognise mistakes, it is however wiser to make amends.

Monday, 17 January 2011


Cyberbullying has reared its ugly head again; this time it is parents targeting teachers with online abuse in social networking sites. This is regrettable.

Children are getting younger and younger in the use of online technology. According to a recent survey across Europe, children as young as 7 are accessing the Internet for a variety of purposes. Most 9-16 year olds are online for about 1 hour and a half a day and large number of them use the internet in the privacy of their bedrooms effortlessly becoming internet natives to the amazement of their presumably less internet savy parents. The internet provides us with wonderful tools to expand our creativity, learn and enjoy ourselves, but it is not without risks, both to children and adults. The Church and Society Council will be presenting a report on the ethical aspects of internet use to the General Assembly this coming May.

Much effort has been spent promoting digital awareness and skills for our children. Part of becoming digitally literate involves the responsible use of the communication facilities provided by the internet like for example, how to deal with inappropriate emails, how to report cyberbullying, how to set up a safe profile in social networking sites, and the importance of keeping private information private. All of this information is extremely valuable, however, the role of parents as role models in shaping the internet use of their children cannot be discounted. There is evidence to support that children’s use of the internet matches their parents use. This means that children might be influenced in their use of the internet by the way they see their parents use of the technology.

Parents have a big role to play in mediating the way their children use the internet; this might involve setting and enforcing rules for use, sharing with them initial experiences when embarking on social networking, giving tips on use, talking about their online experiences and monitoring usage if appropriate. All of this amounts to helping them become responsible cyber-citizens. The internet is very much woven into our every day activities, but this does not mean that we can use this technology for venting frustration and abusing others.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Is detention of children our only answer?

Children of asylum seekers are to be given minders and housed with their families in secure accomodation. Despite well publicised pledges by the coalition government that this practice would stop, some have labelled this new practise as rebranding. If children’s detention is to be stopped, this means that detention of the family should also stop. There is little point in detaining adult family members away from their children. Although in Scotland, the practice of sending children and their families to Dungavel has stopped, some families previously living in Scotland were sent to England to be housed either in Yarl’s Wood detention centre or in Tinsley House. Does this feel like window dressing?

The Church of Scotland, has spoken repeatedly against the imprisonment of children and through my parish work, I have been able to see first hand the effect that even the threat of detention can do to the psychological well-being of a child and of the family as a whole.

I want to stress that the integrity of the asylum process must be preserved. This means that it is recognised that the government is entitled to remove families whose asylum applications have exhausted all appeal procedures. Likewise, it must also be recognised that the “returns process” has to be done humanely, with sensitivity and with full respect to the dignity of the people involved.

Must detention and rapid removal be the only alternative? Has the notion of voluntary returns, with some flexibility inbuilt into the process been fully explored? This is not pie in the sky. In Glasgow, the Family Returns project encourages families to return voluntarily. There is evidence that supports that families with children are less likely to abscond if they are allowed to remain within the communities where they have laid down some roots. Initiatives that support the family in voluntarily returning to their country are steps in the right direction.

As far as I am concerned, the culture of detention is not helping matters. The government’s proposals have so far failed to demonstrate creativity or effectiveness in dealing with the safe return of children and their families.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Tackling Child Poverty

The Scottish Government opened up a consultation process on the issue of child poverty in Scotland. The Child Poverty Act was passed on March 2010 with the target of eliminating child poverty throughout the UK by 2020. I think the discussion paper issued as part of the consultation process is a useful overview of the Scottish Government’s initiatives since this target was set.

The Church and Society Council presented a response to this consultation in collaboration with Faith in Community Scotland, Scottish Churches Housing Action, the Church in Society Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Methodist Church in Scotland,. All of these faith-based organisations have worked on the alleviation of poverty over a number of years and welcomed the opportunity to share their experiences and ideas to reflect on the best way for Government to address child poverty. The eradication of child poverty is an area on which the Kirk has taken a keen interest. In 2009 it published the “Growing up in Scotland “ report and has supported initiatives through the Poverty Truth Commission.

The government discussion paper is useful reading, but, as our response explains “the discussion paper does not address the degree of change that would be required to achieve the 2020 targets.” It is disappointing that the discussion paper included neither strategic priorities nor actions with long and short term targets. What is needed is a strategic approach that addresses the effect of the cuts on child poverty since there is ample evidence that child poverty is likely to rise as a result of budgetary reforms.

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Assassination of Salmaan Taseer

It is with sadness that I heard the news of the assassination of Punjab’s Governor Salmaan Taseer's.

Mr Taseer was a moderate voice within the Pakistani’s People Party, (the ruling party in Pakistan). He was well aware of the negative impact that blasphemy laws were having on members of Pakistan’s religious minorities, particularly Pakistani Christians. His support for minorities was evident through his visit to Aasia Bibi, the Christian Pakistani woman sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy. Christians in Pakistan and elsewhere are mourning his death

Sadly, it is not the first time that major political figures have been assassinated in Pakistan. The cocktail of diversity in religious interpretation and political dissention is causing a schism within the fabric of the country. I encourage everyone, regardless of their faith to pray that this schism does not widen. The use of violence to silence dissention should not be set as a precedent for future generations of Pakistanis.

Personally, I will be praying for the establishment of peace in Pakistan and for the nurturing of bridges of respect and understanding within our Pakistani community in Scotland.