Liverpool is a proud city with some of the finest civic buildings in England. A couple of weeks ago I was in the opulent setting of one of these, and I was angry. Standing in the finery of St Georges Hall I was reminded of the once-great wealth of this trading port. And, as I shared a platform with its current Mayor Joe Anderson, I was angry.
I was angry because we were there to launch a report commissioned by the City Council that looked at how the cumulative impact of the government's welfare reforms has really hit the poorest hardest. Not only a double whammy but in many cases a triple whammy of cuts that fall on the same people, pushing them under where before they were "just-about-managing". And I was angry.
I was angry because I believe that a measure of a true and just society is our attitude to the poorest and most vulnerable. I believe, that as a Christian, a bishop and a pastor I am called to care for those people. My faith speaks of the God who came among us as a poor man, and who calls us still to care for the least and the lost. And my anger is not "fake news". I know, because my priests tell me, and with them I have seen for myself - I know that for many in my diocese - not just in Liverpool but in the proud northern industrial towns of St Helens, Warrington, Wigan and Widnes - life is a struggle made impossibly hard by these cuts.
A comment piece in today's (23/3/2017) Guardian shows again the human cost of what I am sure to the bureaucrats in the Treasury seems like a sensible pen stroke on an accountancy line. It tells the story of "Carol", a disabled woman, struggling to keep her head about water as she copes with the loss of £40 a week. "Welfare reform" - cuts - have made it harder and harder for her to survive. Our local Council has supported her through its hardship fund but even that is squeezed meaning tough decisions and greater hardship. And when I think of Carol, and of the other real people I have met, I am angry.
I am angry because we as a nation are allowing a cumulative, creeping deprivation to happen to our sisters and brothers, to our children, to our neighbours. I am angry that our hard-working local politicians are forced into heartbreaking, difficult decisions over where best to spend their limited resources. I am angry that the Westminster government fails to recognise the cumulative impact of their cheese-paring, the impact in injustice and impracticality of their funding regime.
I do not want to see a society where our children starve, where our fellow citizens are punished for being disabled, sick and in need. In today's world, in today's Britain we should surely be investing in our support for people not continuing to punish, attack and demonise the very people who need our help. We should be investing in dignity and love, and we should if necessary be paying the price of dignity and love, the price of human flourishing, the price of a caring and more equal society.
It is my privilege in this city to co-chair our Strategy Group for Fairness and Tackling Poverty. Together with local politicians and members of the business community, the voluntary and faith sectors, we are working to find ways to change this situation. But we can't make bricks without straw.
I stand proudly with these colleagues because I believe that I am called to love my neighbour. As I follow the teachings of Jesus I believe that I am called to feed and clothe the poor. But you don't need to be a believer to see that change is needed. As a whole people we need to say, loudly and clearly, that there is a cost to making expensive political decisions and then imposing "austerity" as a way of minimising that expense. This way of living must not - in God's name must not - be allowed to punish, hurt and stigmatise the poor. I am angry, and I am not the only one. It needs to stop, for Carol's sake, and for Christ's sake.