Church leaders have expressed their concern at the rising number of people struggling to cope on low incomes and the anxiety that the current political instability brings to the most vulnerable members of society. Following consultation with representatives of faith-based charities, they have issued the following statement:
“As Northern Ireland’s elected representatives continue to negotiate the future of our political institutions, an awareness of their shared responsibility for the common good needs to be at the heart of the discussion. Threats to the peace process are most keenly felt in those areas that benefited least from the progress of recent years. A long-term vision, which includes effective measures to address poverty and socio-economic inequality, is essential to rebuild trust and advance the work of reconciliation.
“As Church leaders, committed to the principles of Scripture and the teaching of Jesus, we believe it is right to bring a Christian perspective to the concerns of our community at this time. As the writer of Proverbs states, Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute (Proverbs 31:8).
“For the rising number of people struggling to cope on low incomes, the current political instability brings further anxiety. In addition to uncertainty about the impact of Welfare Reform, cuts to essential public services and the failure to agree a budget for future service provision have significant implications for the most vulnerable members of our society. As Christians we have a responsibility, not only to give generously to address immediate social need, but to work with political leaders and the wider community to change the structures that are trapping people in cycles of poverty.
“Local communities are ready to be active partners in tackling the root causes of social exclusion and are best placed to inform and shape this work. In community and faith-based organisations, volunteers are working quietly and effectively to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable and marginalised, including the basic necessities of food, shelter and much-needed emotional and psychological support. As demands continue to rise, charities are stretched beyond capacity and facing difficult decisions about the future.
“The unacceptable level of child poverty, affecting over 100,000 children, roughly 6% of Northern Ireland’s population, constitutes a real crisis. Supports that have proved to be effective in recent years in addressing inequality and closing the gap in crucial areas such as educational disadvantage are now being withdrawn through lack of funding. The failure to invest adequately in the future leaders of our society is a cause of deep frustration among young people, leaving many feeling disconnected from political processes.
“Our politicians have a critical opportunity to restore hope to those who are struggling and all those who feel disillusioned with the political institutions. The generosity and solidarity demonstrated by local communities in response to the refugee crisis reflects the kind of society we want to live in. Increasing levels of poverty are taking us further from that vision, threatening social cohesion. We urgently need a change in direction, based on sustainable investment in local communities, that will bring us closer to a more equal, just and inclusive society.”
Rev Brian Anderson, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland
Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh
Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh
Rt Rev Dr Ian McNie, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Rev Dr Donald Watts, President, Irish Council of Churches