Saturday, 13 April 2013

Suffer little children

If we are to believe St Matthew, Christ called on us to ‘suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’

And he still more pointedly proclaimed:

‘But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.’

It’s a theme which runs through many cultures, I’m sure, and is certainly a mainspring of ours in the West. As an example, take the much more modern gospel of The West Wing. In the early days of his run for the White House, the best president the US never had, Josiah Bartlett, says:

‘Today for the first time in history, the largest group of Americans living in poverty are children. 1 in 5 children live in the most abject, dangerous, hopeless, back-breaking, gut-wrenching poverty any of us could imagine. 1 in 5, and they're children. If fidelity to freedom of democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says we shall give our children better than we ourselves received.’

Matthew is the key gospel writer of Christianity, and Bartlett a devout Catholic. Surely, though, one doesn’t have to be a Christian or, indeed, to belong to any religion to believe that the greatest duty any of us has is to strive to leave the world better for those who come after us than we found it.

That flows from the words of the Indian sage who taught us that ‘we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’

In turn, that makes the greatest measure, the absolute acid test, of the value of any government, what it does for children. Elevate them, by however little, and it cannot have entirely failed; increase their suffering, and no other success counts for much.

Among all the celebrations of the life of Thatcher, let’s not forget that in the eighteen years of her government and her successor’s, child poverty in Britain tripled. The Blair/Brown Labour governments, for all their failings – the rash invasion of Iraq, the craven obeisance to wealth – took 1.1 million children out of poverty. Now the forecast is that Cameron’s government will plunge 600,000 straight back. 

Grim prospects for British children. And they're set to get worse

Last week, UNICEF published a new report showing that the steps taken towards reducing child poverty under Labour, were threatened by the present regime of cuts. It provides a measure of what’s being done to think that even Thatcher maintained a 1:1 ratio between spending cuts and tax rises; the present government’s ratio is 4:1.

Suffer little children. Well, they’re certainly going to suffer in far greater numbers than before. On the other hand, some already immensely comfortable people will feel more comfortable about the tax regime. Government may begin to shrink, though certainly less than partisans of such action sought. On some measure of efficiency, some things will be more efficient than they were. But children will be suffering hunger, ill-health or general deprivation, to fund those changes.

That’s the acid test of government. ConDems in Britain, Tea Party people in the US recklessly cutting necessary spending, the apostles of austerity throughout Europe, are failing it massively. And that includes those who are self-proclaimed Christians. Doesn
t that make the case against them open and shut, the argument over?

I find it hard to understand how anyone with a conscience can defend such policies during the day, and be at peace with themselves in the evening. 

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