Fourth Sunday of Easter 2020
As the Bishops of The Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, we are gravely concerned by the growing body of evidence that indicates that the COVID-19 Pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on the poor.
The parishes we serve are for the most part located in areas characterised by high levels of deprivation and every day we are hearing stories from our priests about the impact of the pandemic on those they serve. We thank these clergy and laypeople for the faithfulness and imagination with which, in desperate circumstances, they are serving some of the most deprived communities in the land. They report particular concerns about the negative effects of the current crisis on family life and the level of hunger they are finding amongst children. We are alarmed by data that suggests that those in our most deprived communities are twice as likely to die as those from wealthier areas.
To compound the situation, it is those same deprived communities who are worst impacted by other aspects of the pandemic including the spiralling rate of unemployment, the loss of fragile jobs, the chaos surrounding the distribution of free school meals vouchers and injustices and inefficiencies in the benefits systems. After years of austerity, our deprived communities have lost much of the infrastructure that could once have supported vulnerable people through a crisis such as this, and we are alarmed about the economic and social impact of pandemic upon those least able to bear it. Of equal concern to us is the disproportionate number of BAME people who are being impacted by the virus and we urge greater research into the reasons that lie behind this.
Whilst long-term restoration of the economy must remain a priority in resolving these issues, we call upon HM Government and the Church of England to take immediate and decisive action to bolster the resilience of our deprived communities.
We call upon HM Government to withdraw the two child limit on benefits, to review the benefits cap, to address at once inefficiencies in Universal Credit, to continue job furlough schemes for as long as necessary and to ensure that children who are entitled to free school meals have access to healthy food until such a time as schools are able to re-open. We support the Bishop of Durham, the Child Poverty Action Group and other organisations and individuals who are active in these areas.
We call upon the Church of England to commit itself anew to service and presence in our deprived communities, to strengthen its commitment to its poorer parishes as it emerges from crisis and to guarantee that central church funding streams dedicated to lower income communities reach the people for whom they are intended.
As we celebrate Easter with its themes of new creation and redemption, we pray that the whole Christian Church might faithfully and compellingly witness to the promise of the dignity of life in its fulness for every human person. Let us resist conformity to the inequalities of unregulated greed, and be transformed by the renewal of our minds, so that we might discern the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12.2).
+ TONY WAKEFIELD
The Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop of Wakefield,
Chairman of The Society’s Council of Bishops
+ GLYN BEVERLEY
The Rt Revd Glyn Webster, Bishop of Beverley
+ PHILIP BURNLEY
The Rt Revd Philip North, Bishop of Burnley
+ MARTIN CICESTR:
The Rt Revd Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester
+ JONATHAN EBBSFLEET
The Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall, Bishop of Ebbsfleet
+ JONATHAN FULHAM
The Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham
+ NORMAN RICHBOROUGH
The Rt Revd Norman Banks, Bishop of Richborough