This is the title of an article in today’s Times. According to a recent report* poorer areas and areas outside of London and the South East have far less charitable activity going on to tackle social problems. Blackpool, in the bottom 10 deprived locations, has 47 charities, equivalent to 1.7 per 1,000 people. Hackney in London, with similar levels of deprivation has 449, or 3.9 per 1,000 people. The Cotswolds, 263rd out of 326 in the index of deprivation has 6.6 charities per 1,000 people. This speaks of where people with resources, time and motivation tend to live. No double there are social problems in the Cotswolds, but it would be interesting to compare them with Blackpool. Or Ardwick, Manchester. As the article says: “Charities say that they are less bureaucratic than the government and closer to the people who need the help most. However, by being based in affluent areas and focusing on the problems there, this argument is undermined.”
More evidence of deprived (mostly urban) losing out to affluent (mostly suburban). I wonder if the pattern for church-based charitable activity (or any activity) is any different… How many are actually “closer to the people who need help the most”? That’s a survey waiting to be commissioned. Any takers?
[*Ironically, the report comes from the London-based Centre for Social Justice, an ‘independent (hmm) think-tank’ founded by Iain Duncan-Smith while in post-Tory-party-leader wilderness. Good that they’re exposing stuff like this. Could the founder please take note?]
A recent report in the Church Times showed that C of E clergy are at least twice as likely to apply for vacant posts in the South East as in the North. The report was picked up by the Independent under the title “Go spread the word of the Lord? Only down South, say choosy Church of England clergy” (with some interesting comments at the end!). I wonder how much more this is the case when inner-city or overspill estates tare taken into account? One startling comparison mentioned was between an estate parish in Hartlepool that took two and a half years to fill, and a rich area in Paddington which had over 120 applications.
Before any other denominations get ideas, a 2011 study of Methodist ministers showed 6% living in the bottom fifth of most deprived postcodes. (Michael Hirst, “Location, Location, Location,” Methodist Recorder, 10/5/2012, 8). Many denominations are simply largely absent in the inner-city.
Yes, in deciding where to live there are important considerations to be made and costs to be counted – family welfare probably coming top – but isn’t the theory here that as Christians the call of God on our lives is number one? And that is where as well as, in fact often before, what. If God has actually ‘placed’ his people in their locations, as some claim, then that doesn’t say much for his “bias for the poor”. Maybe it is time to come clean and admit that for most of us most of the time, in practice, we choose comfort and convenience over call, and our leaders are only partly to blame, as we are very willing to follow their example. We fail God in all sorts of ways, and he still loves us and is prepared to work with what we manage to offer him. That said, Suburban Drift, Redemption and Lift/Leave, the assumption of aspirational middle-class values, call it what you will, continues unchallenged in our churches.