In an open letter to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton Harris MP, the NI Coalition of Christian Voices Against Poverty has challenged severe cuts to budgets to a range of critical public services which have been applied to the North. These cuts severely are impacting the most vulnerable people across the communities. The signatories to the letter include Malachy McKernan, a representative of the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs. This open letter flows from several months of engagement by various Christian churches and Church communities, drawn together by the Evangelical Alliance.
In the letter the coalition states that, “our faith motivates us to care for our neighbour and especially the most vulnerable members of our society. We believe that everyone is made in the image of God, and believe all life is valuable and worthy of dignity. We are compelled by Christ’s teachings to work alongside a devolved administration for a society where every person is enabled to thrive in life, and not just survive.”
The group continued, “as representatives of over thirty churches and faith organisations (all of whom are charities) we are committed to offering a comprehensive range of holistic services and support in our communities. However, we must highlight to you that these services are under threat because the demand is overwhelming. With the buckling pressure of poverty, we are shouldering greater burdens – we are continually stepping into the gaps created through failing statutory provision in terms of both policy and finance. Now, with existing budgets stretched and cuts being proposed, even the ‘safety net’ of faith-based charitable care is in doubt. Additionally, having to deal with growing numbers of people experiencing poverty, we are recognising a form of ‘moral distress’ affecting volunteers who serve those in need.”
The coalition called on the Secretary of State, to ensure that:
- the UK government embed the ‘Essentials Guarantee’ in the Social Security system. Launched this year jointly by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and The Trussell Trust, it is based on the principle that, at a minimum, Universal Credit should protect people from going without essentials; and,
- in the ongoing absence of the Anti-poverty Strategy, a statutory obligation, outlined in section 28E of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, to prioritise policy decisions that could transform the lived experiences of people trapped in poverty and destitution.
The letter concluded stating that the coalition believes “that a just and compassionate society is one that prioritises the well-being of its most vulnerable members. Please work collaboratively with communities and stakeholders like churches and faith organisations to find solutions that ensure that no one is left behind.”