Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Is the Welfare State A Christian Responsibility?

These are my notes for a talk given at our church.

Is the Welfare State A Christian Responsibility?
If the government is not concerned about poverty they are denying people their
human rights. So said Paul Goggins of Church Action on Poverty on Radio 4 this
morning. Well that statement makes some bold assumptions, like the concept of
human rights which I might tackle another night, but today it is poverty under
examination. Whose responsibility is it? Do you support the idea of higher taxes
to give more to the poor? Do you give to beggars?

An historical survey (Anglocentric)
Pre- reformation gifts to church for charity and chantries
Henry V111 had beggars whipped
1557 Mary had them branded V for vagabond. London later granted 1000
licenses to beggars
1572 JPs to organise Overseers of the poor in every parish. Poor rate. Some
houses of correction and workhouses.
1601 Poor Law revised and to last over 230 years for unemployed, sick, aged
and orphans. replaces private charity through church. But generous parishes
were a magnet.
1662 Act of Settlement Only one place where you can get help.
1697 Certificates of settlement legalised so migrant workers could be returned
to their parish of settlement if impoverished
18c Pauper apprentices Later battles over their conditions of work.
Some private workhouses were the worst.
1795 Berks justices used poor relief to supplement wages. Speenhamland
system. Allowances to supplement low wages. Widespread use. Rise in
rates. Total doubled in 8 years. Locally it rose 8 fold in one parish in 29
years. Dependency. Large families encouraged.
1834 Poor law amendment act. To last 80 years. Orphans, sick and old deserved
help but the rest were idle. So discourage poor relief and the problem will
vanish. Parishes grouped into unions. Elected Boards of Guardians
responsible to national Poor Law Commission. Able bodied not eligible for
relief if in own homes. Workhouses to be less comfortable than the life of
the poorest outside the system. Sexes separated so as not to encourage more
dependants. An administrative success lasting to 1929 but much resentment
in industrial north where occasional unemployment was a hazard.
Commissioners stoned and the workhouse test had to be abandoned in
industrial areas. Allowances removed in rural parts.
1793,1829,1846 Acts to protect Friendly Societies. Weekly sub for unemployment,
sickness and death benefits. By 1850 25% of workers took part.
1835 Municipal corporations
1870 School Boards
1888 County councils
1894 Rural and Urban district Councils All took over much of the work of Boards of
1908 Old age pensions
1911 Unemployment insurance, relief 15 weeks a year. 2x16 weeks in 1921
1929 Local Government Act gave duties of Guardians to county and borough
councils. Mass unemployment necessitated a change but by now guardians
cared mainly for aged.
1931 Means tested Transitional payment to supplement the Dole.
1944 For the first time a government said that the first aim of economic policy
should be the avoidance of unemployment. It was no longer to be seen as
the fault of the idle.
How the Law cared for the poor
Exod. 23:11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplayed and unused.
Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat
what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
Lev. 25:25 "If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his
property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.
Lev. 25:35 "If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support
himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can
continue to live among you.
Obedience abolishes poverty but sin establishes it
Deut. 15:4 However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD
your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,
Deut. 15:7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the
land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tight-fisted to
ward your poor brother.
Deut. 15:11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you
to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
Economic justice
Deut. 24:14,15 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy,
whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him
his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it.
Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
Prov. 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him
for what he has done.
Prov. 22:9 A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with
the poor.
Christian help
Acts 9:36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is
Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.
Acts 10:4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The
angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial
offering before God.
Acts 24:17 "After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my
people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.
Rom. 15:26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the
poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

Origins of centralised state
1 Sam. 8:6-22 But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased
Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the
people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected
me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt
until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now
listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will
reign over them will do. "Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who
were asking him for a king. He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you
will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses,
and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of
thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his
harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.
He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take
the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his
attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to
his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your
cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks,
and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for
relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.
"But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us.
Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out
before us and fight our battles. "When Samuel heard all that the people said,
he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, "Listen to them and give them a
king." Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Everyone go back to his town."

So taxation, conscription, impoverishment but no promised help for the needy.

Question for your deliberation
We today accept concepts unknown to Scripture. Human rights. Scripture talks of
charity. A State which cares for welfare, education and health. Does Scripture
give a case to argue that these areas should not be primarily the responsibility
of the state? Do people want these to be the state's responsibility because that
is easier than personal responsibility? Has the state become an idol, i.e. in the
place of God?


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