“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
It came across my tweeter feed this evening, and suffice it to say, my reaction was not a calm one. “Priti Patel MP: The bishops are blind to the moral message of IDS’s gospel of work.” Gospel of work? GOSPEL?
Oh what fresh hell was this? After all, we are talking about the man of the Easterhouse Epiphany, who successfully fooled many with his new found desire to pursue ‘compassionate Conservatism’. This was a man who – perhaps because under his leadership the Conservative party were suffering mightily in the opinion polls – was already exploiting his religion in order to appeal to the conservative (small c) heartland, crying in public about ‘the poor’ and proclaiming his concern about how the secularisation of Great Britain might be one of Britain’s ‘biggest problems‘.
So well did he play the part of the caring and compassionate Conservative Christian leader that he was invited to speak at the Labour Party conference in 2005 by Bob Holman, founder of the Easterhouse based charity FARE, and it was where IDS proclaimed: “Everyone should have enough money to live properly in their community.” And whilst his appeal to the conservative heartland did not save his leadership of the Tory party, it paved the way to a successful re-invention which allowed him to pursue his calling as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
So let us return to this ‘moral’ message, this ‘gospel of work’ – the Christian inference is clear, and I would suggest, deliberate. The word ‘gospel’ is of course a rendering of the Greek word meaning ‘good news’ evangelion and is most often associated with Christianity. The premise then of this post is simple: that the bishops (and by extension any one who agrees with them about benefit cuts and caps which have been metered out under Duncan Smith) are failing to accept the ‘morality’ which drives this, and haven’t accepted the ‘gospel’ that this is The Way in which the poor should be dealt with.
Or to put it another way, this is the gospel according to Ian Duncan Smith, and there is something wrong with us if we don’t see it his way.
When you build a society in which people are only valued for their economic output, is is those least able to produce economically who suffer. And when your ‘morality’ is built on the premise that those who cannot produce economically should be forced to do so, inevitably you will find the belief that their poverty is their own fault, that it is a weakness of which they must be cured. And that is what is at the heart of this ‘gospel’ – the poor are poor because they have chosen to be so, and these cuts whom so many others can see as wrong, are in fact for their own good.
Under the last Labour Government, the concept of welfare went wrong. We saw an extreme culture of dependency on welfare developing where families became trapped – sometimes by deliberate choice and sometimes by accident – in a cycle of dependency in which they were rewarded for not working. This cycle also affected generations of households, which led to the erosion of the basic value of hard work, aspiration and the general desire to want to get on in life. (Emphasis mine)
People, so the narrative goes, have found a ‘lifestyle’ from which they need to be saved. In this narrative, the disabled aren’t doing enough for themselves, and those struggling with mental health issues could certainly make more of an effort. The LGBTIQ+ community might struggle with stigma and poverty, but if they could only stop being so ‘dependent’.. With this sort of view of humanity, it must make sense to take away social housing and take money away from domestic violence refuges, because naturally the last thing those escaping from domestic violence need after running away with their kids from life threatening violence is to develop ‘dependency issues’. And god help you if you are black or of colour.
Duncan Smith’s gospel is nothing at all like the gospel as proclaimed by Christ. It is, however, quite a lot like the ‘prosperity gospel‘, as proclaimed by a number of (very wealthy) preachers. But it isn’t good news for the poor, it wont set any captives free and it certainly isn’t life.
It’s a fake and phoney gospel, and if you don’t conform to it, it will kill you.