GREAT BRITAIN is gripped by alarming awareness. Not only do we live in an unequal society, but years of austerity have steadily increased the number of those who find themselves dangerously close to calamity. The predictions are that the post-pandemic economic impact will be greater than the 2008 financial crisis. Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated long-standing social inequalities.
While there are varied and complex reasons for knowing where we are today, the ever-growing inequality gap had somehow slipped out of our collective social consciousness. We cannot escape the reality that we live in a divided society, where those who work in low-valued jobs, precarious employment situations and the odd-job economy are further disadvantaged by the prospect of a long period of uncertainty.
While the virus does not discriminate, its impact does. Evidence suggests that low-income households, the elderly, and people of Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) descent are negatively affected (News, May 15). Stories of food shortages, menstrual poverty, unscrupulous landlords, substandard housing and reduced incomes have highlighted the growing chasm between those who can afford a good life and those who struggle.
The majority of those in detention have successfully overcome the demands of the “new normal”. Households with little or no access to information technology, however, have found themselves even more disadvantaged as we have become increasingly dependent on online communication for education, shopping and social connections.
IN THE first weeks of the pandemic, the number of income support claimants rose to 2.1 million: an overall increase of 69.1% in one month. As it settled down, regional differences became more and more apparent. Data showed that as London became less of an infection hotspot, transmission rates, especially in the Midlands and the North, fell less sharply.
Regarding disability, a recent Office for National Statistics survey indicated that more adults with disabilities (45.1 percent) reported being very worried, compared to adults without disabilities (30.2 percent). ). Concerns over the effect of Covid-19 on well-being and access to grocery shopping are at the top of the list.
The families most affected by food insecurity are families with young children, low-paid workers and the elderly with minimal retirement income. In April, the Trussell Trust reported an 89% increase in demand for food packages. More worryingly, the number of families with young children receiving them has doubled compared to the same period last year.
Amid the emerging economic turmoil and growing job uncertainty, growing personal debt is also adding to already precarious finances and growing anxiety. Many have increased their reliance on credit cards, overdrafts and payday loans to make ends meet. As a result, debt charities have seen a substantial increase in the number of people borrowing money to buy even the essentials.
The BAME community has experienced disproportionate death rates from Covid-19. Even before the publication of the Disparities Review and the murder of George Floyd, ethnic minorities in the UK were aware, from the daily parade of black and brown faces on television, of an increased vulnerability to this infection. It wasn’t just genetics or co-morbidities, but structural racism.
A recent ITN survey of doctors and health workers at BAME found that many felt that ‘systemic discrimination’ on the front line could be a factor in the high number of their colleagues who died after contracting the virus (94 percent). one hundred of the physicians who have died are from BAME backgrounds). Many had expressed concern about not receiving adequate personal protective equipment, being overrepresented on the front lines due to labor market politics, and tended to be employed in fields that no one else wanted. work. The sorrow, the lamentations and the just indignation of the community are justified.
STRUCTURAL inequality not only limits life opportunities, it limits life. However, throughout the period of confinement, and although they cannot practice their worship in the usual way, the churches have become important actors in the networks of mutual aid which have multiplied. From organizing food distributions to collecting medicine, churches across the country are partnering with their communities to tackle issues of poverty and disadvantage.
For example, a survey conducted before the lockdown in Birmingham found that 91% of C of E churches were engaged in community activities. The indications are that most have continued under the current restrictions. St James’s, Mere Green, during the first week of the lockdown, launched an initiative called Hope for Sutton. By the end of April, its efforts had expanded to help 610 vulnerable families, delivering more than 2,800 free meals to the community. This is just one example of work being done nationally; so, how can the Church consider the role it must play?
IN THE current situation, the key questions for the Church are: What does it mean to be in solidarity with those who experience inequalities? How to question and act in a prophetic way that reflects the justice, mercy and justice of God for all, and understand that “the cries of the victims are the voice of God” (“Vox victimarum vox Dei”), as Matthew L. Lamb wrote in his book Solidarity with the victims: towards a theology of social transformation (Carrefour, 1982).
In Birmingham, through activities such as our Poverty Truth Commission, we learned that influencers need to go beyond the data that typically forms the basis of decisions, to spend time listening to people with “ lived experience ”, inviting them to become a partner through social action, and collaborate with deconstructing stories of power and exclusion.
The call for a fair and just society has never been stronger. This means considering how resources, including ministers and leaders, are distributed across the Church, recognizing that regional disparities in filling vacancies are reflected in a north-south divide, and that initiatives to support the Indigenous leadership are difficult to sustain.
The point is, our tendency for homogeneity in our churches – lack of diversity in race, class, age, ability, or any other characteristic – diminishes us all and itself becomes a source of disparity. Intentional listening and unconscious bias training (UBT) can help. While UBT by itself is not the answer to inequality, it will allow for a better understanding of the personal and organizational ways that marginalize and exclude others.
Outward orientation towards the margins is required. Pope Francis recently wrote: “The gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed. . . total openness to the service of others is our trademark; it alone is our title of honor. In the years to come, when people seek the Church, will they find her among the poor? If not, why not?
As we emerge from this pandemic, several challenges await us. The economic and social impact of the past few months will continue to erode for years to come. Social programs that were developed or extended by churches during the pandemic will either have to be maintained, adapt to the changing context, or cease to exist. Advocacy for those who remain, however, will always be essential.
There is an urgent need to tackle structural inequalities, to denounce racism and, at the same time, to critically deconstruct narratives of privilege and power. This is not just an internal matter: it deeply affects the ability of the Church to serve everyone equally and with integrity. We should not be a divided and inequitable Church, but one for all.
- Act with justice: recognition of growing inequalities in society and a commitment to social justice.
- Love Mercy: an intentional orientation towards the marginalized and the poor.
- Walk humbly: A serious examination of the growing geographic, economic, cultural and racial inequalities that exist within our own churches.
Pastor Sharon Prentis is the Intercultural Mission Facilitator and Dean of Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority Affairs in the Diocese of Birmingham, and Honorary Fellow at the Edward Cadbury Center for Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham.
Read the articles in our special post-pandemic issue here.
Learn more about the writers of post-pandemic problem and submit your own questions at a webinar on Thursday, July 9 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Information and tickets here.
“Interrupting the Church’s Flow: Engaging Graham Ward and Romand Coles in a Radically Receptive Political Theology in the Urban Margins” by A. Barrett (research.vu.nl/ws/portalfiles/portal/42786037/complete+dissertation.pdf, 2019).
Disunity in Christ: Discovering the Hidden Forces that Separate Us by Christena Cleveland (IVP, 2013).
Healing Our Shattered Humanity: Practices for Revitalizing the Church and Renewing the World by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill (IVP, 2018).