Monday, 15 October 2012

Moving on

After three year's of the Convener's Blog we are making some changes.  I'll now be blogging from Sally's Blog, which can be found on the main Church of Scotland wesbite.

I hope you like the changes to the look and feel of the blog, please bookmark the new page and check regularly with what's happening.  I'd also love to hear your comments!

I've you've not already seen it, my first new post is about the war on the poor and the language delployed by George Osborne which is driving deeper divisions into society...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Today is World Mental Health day

Human beings are a wonder - so adaptable and resilient, yet so intricately complex and fragile.

It's this combination that makes each person unique- a one off, never to be repeated miracle.

I don't think we see each other that way often enough. I worry, that in today's busy, hectic rush, we don't see each other at all.

Today is World Mental Health Day, and I hope we will use this day to see each other, to listen and learn.

A lot of what I get to do in my work is listen to people. One thing that resonates is the comment from so many sufferers of mental illness that they feel invisible and silenced. "How do I begin to explain my mental illness? The hardest bit is telling others – folk can see a broken leg but they can’t see inside your head." 

One in four adults in the UK suffers from a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year.

I believe we have to work to end the stigma around mental illness.  The burden which must be carried by those affected by mental health problems, and those who care for them, is not only heavy, but can be life- long.

How we, as church, as friends and family, support each other is at the heart of a culture of positive relationships that we seek to foster.

Our churches should surely be places where everybody can be sure of having someone to listen, somebody who cares and values each and every man, woman and child. The presence of the church as a community of people who care and who can simply ‘be there’ can be very important in times of need.

At parish level, individual and congregational prayer is powerful.  Support from pastoral care teams can provide invaluable ministry, promoting self esteem and a sense that a person’s and family’s journey and burden are shared.

The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly received a report on mental health in 2011

You can explore these issues further by using this Bible Study.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Food banks are for Life, not just for Harvest

Harvest represents not being hungry!

Sadly, we’ve got our work cut out for us and Harvest has just officially been extended: in Scotland today, the fastest growing voluntary sector is in food distribution: Food-banks.

Food-banks are opening all over Scotland and the ones already operational are running out of food as fast as they can get it in. In Alloa, the food-bank there gets up to ten referrals a week – referrals from the Citizens Advice bureau, the Police, Social Services, the Prison Service, Health Visitors and the schools.

Need has increased exponentially. Where they used to see mostly single men, they are now seeing more families. In Arbroath, the local Primary Schools now take it in turns to have a special collection on Fridays because the food-bank found that weekends were when people needed the most help. They struggled to make it through the weekend when the usual routes to assistance were closed. What is going on? How, in the same country where we throw away 566,000 tonnes of food each year, can so many people be going hungry?

From the perspective of the church, there has to be a two-pronged attack. Firstly our neighbours cannot be allowed to go hungry, so we have to step up in communities to make sure that these food-banks are consistently and adequately stocked; BUT and this is an important BUT, we have to continually ask the question – to the Government and to ourselves - how on earth can people be going hungry in Scotland today?

How can there be such incredible gaps between the rich and the poor, how can there be such yawning lags between applying for help and actually receiving it? With high unemployment levels and the introduction of the universal credit system and other benefit changes, there is genuine fear that things are only going to get worse – so we help plug the leaks by supplying food-banks, but we do so while consistently calling for change. Community is connection so we have to work for ways to reach out to those in our community who have fallen through the ever-widening cracks in the economic system we all participate in. Community is connection – we cannot stand by and say the problem is too big – the problem is too big to ignore!  

The Church has often used a phrase purported to Jesus as almost a “get out of jail free” card. When Jesus said “the poor are always with us,” did he mean that we should just accept that as the way it is? The statement could equally be seen as an indictment and a challenge. Do we accept that in a world so technologically advanced that we can speak to someone across the globe in seconds, where medical advancements have banished diseases which used to ravage, where we can genetically modify crops, that we cannot re-adjust our economic system to be more just and equitable - or is it a matter of corporate will? Will we accept hunger on our doorstep or hunger on our global stage? 

Or will we follow the example Jesus left his followers – he fed the hungry, but he also got into a lot of hot water by asking awkward questions to those in authority about why people were hungry and oppressed and compromised.  His words hit home all the more because he put his actions behind his words.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Tax Bus Blog Friday: Tax - who is responsible?

All this week the Tax Justice Tour has been travelling around Scotland. This seven-week tour around 50 towns and cities across Britain and Ireland has a message of tax justice for poor communities locally and globally. The iniative has educated, inspired and equipped those who have boarded the bus and engaged with the complex issue of tax law.

Hopefully the impact will continue to unpack itself as they pass on what they’ve learned: that tax avoidance is a devastating wrong, morally unacceptable and something we can no longer tolerate. It has a particular sting in an age of austerity and spending cuts. It effectively amounts to robbing the poor, in the UK and in poor countries, of the money that should be spent on education, health and welfare.

But today, on the tour’s last day in Scotland, I pose the question: Whose job is it to make sure that people pay their taxes fairly?

On the one hand there is clearly an issue with very wealthy individuals, companies or institutions using immoral or unjustifiable (or even illegal) means to avoid tax.

There is also a question of what Governments can do in terms of regulations, enforcement, prosecution and closing tax loop-holes.

Christian Aid and the Church of Scotland have also asked for reforms to the international accounting system for large multinational corporations, to ensure transparency in reporting of how much tax they pay and where some tax dodging schemes are cloaked in secrecy and so making corporate accounts report what they do in each country would be one way in shedding light on dodgy practices.

And does society, the media, political and community leaders, the churches, have a role in setting out what is and what is not ok? We need to make the concept of tax dodging as socially repugnant as racism; it is sinful, it is evil, it is harmful. On this last day of the tour in Scotland - as the bus pulls out, we need to recognise that we all have a part in this complex mess. If there is a change coming, then we all need to get on-board! 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Tax Bus Blog Thursday: Tax justice for you and me

Scottish Church Leaders in Edinburgh with the Tax Bus yesterday

The Tax Justice Tour continues its journey across Scotland today. Having had stops in Dumfries and Alloway, Glasgow and Edinburgh earlier this week, today it is in St Andrews before travelling on to Inverness tomorrow. 
Yesterday I got a chance to visit the Tax bus as it sat in Bristo Square in Edinburgh.  Now I have to confess that I find understanding finance “challenging!”  When it comes to numbers, I feel a cloud of confusion descending on my brain and a strong urge to bury my head in the sand follows; however, I have come to the conclusion that this issue is too important to ignore.  And I have begun to realise, as I meet and talk with others for whom the penny has dropped, others who have also begun to engage with the issue of tax justice, that perhaps my urge isn’t unique – perhaps big corporations actually count on our ostrich-like inclinations. 
We cannot allow that to be the case anymore – our brothers and sisters who are daily being more marginalised by the extreme profit margins of tax-dodging companies are counting on us to start counting the tax cost. 
As I visited the bus, I was struck by the potential impact of this awareness-raising, education- offering tool! I met dedicated people whose knowledge and commitment to seeking tax justice planted seeds in others who left more informed and more empowered. Hopefully, they will go out and spread the message; hopefully they will be encouraged to believe that their voice can make a difference - write messages to leaders or go on rallies or lobby centres of power. Hopefully they will not go back to the default position of adopting the ostrich position.
If you’ve not been able to get to the Tax Bus or if you’d like more information about tax justice, then Christian Aid Scotland and the Church of Scotland are happy to come to speak to your congregation or a group linked with your church.  Please get in touch by emailing  
We’ve also prepared some prayer and worship resources on the theme of poverty and tax which you are welcome to download and use.  October 17th is International Poverty Eradication Day - a great chance to use these resources to engage with this complex issue.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Tax Bus Blog Wednesday: The Politics of tax dodging

I’ve been blogging about issues around Tax to mark the visit of the Tax Justice Tour to Scotland this week. 

Today the Bus visits the Scottish Parliament, where there will be an opportunity for MSPs, Parliamentary researchers and others to board the bus and find out more about what Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty are calling for.

Neil Findlay MSP, who represents the Lothians, has achieved cross-party support for his motion, which I’ve copied below.

If you are reading this and live in Scotland, please consider writing to your MSPs asking if they have signed the motion, and if not, to do so!

One of the challenges we face is that however sympathetic Scottish politicians might be to the cause of greater transparency, accountability and responsibility in the tax system, the only real change will come from wealthy individuals and institutions changing their attitude to tax dodging. 

As a lot of these issues touch on global trade and economic policy the UK Government and Westminster Parliament need to be convinced as well; but with support at every level of power, influence and leadership, hopefully the message that the system has to change can be heard loud and clear.

The Tax Justice Tour website allows you to sign an online petition to add your name to a list which will be presented at the end of the Tour to the Prime Minister.

Motion S4M-04217: Neil Findlay, Lothian, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 20/09/2012

Christian Aid, Tax Justice Bus

That the Parliament commends the work by Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty in taking their Tax Justice Bus around the UK and Ireland raising awareness of tax dodging; notes Christian Aid’s estimate that the global culture of financial secrecy costs the developing world $160 billion every year, which is one and a half times what is delivered in international aid; understands that, in the UK, the poorest people are also worst affected by the impact of tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance; notes that the Tax Justice Bus is in Scotland between 1 and 5 October 2012, stopping in Dumfries, Alloway, Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews, Inverness and Inverurie, including a stop outside the Parliament on 3 October to allow MSPs and parliamentary staff to meet campaigners, and welcomes the opportunity for people to get on board the tax bus and find out why tackling tax dodging is so important in the fight against local and global poverty.

So get on board by signing the on-line petition, by writing to your MP and MSP, by telling your friends and neighbours that they too can get on-board. There’s plenty of room on the bus! 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Tax Bus Blog Tuesday: Tax and global development

I am blogging about Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty’s campaign for tax justice this week.  Like the Olympic Torch relay, the Tax Justice Tour is travelling to communities across Britain and Ireland seeking to raise awareness about the injustice of tax dodging.  For all of this week the Big Red Bus is in Scotland.
Christian Aid estimates that around $160 billion a year are lost to developing countries’ governments because of tax dodging by wealthy individuals and institutions.  This sum is greater than the global international aid budget. It means that poor countries do not benefit from the tax revenues they are entitled to, and these unethical practices are harming education, healthcare and infrastructure; keeping the poorest in the world poor while the rich avoid paying their fair dues.

Access to clean drinking water remains a major problem in Bangladesh. Yet the money Bangladesh lost between 2005 and 2007 as a result of trade mispricing with the EU and US – an estimated £184m – could have been spent on establishing safe drinking water for much of the population.

In Bangladesh, water is simply not on tap. A quarter of the population lives without sustainable access to improved water. Millions of women and children spend hours travelling just to quench their families’ thirst. As a result, children lose out on education because, rather than filling their brains, they are filling up buckets.

Minu Basar crossed a wide and sometimes dangerous river travelling up to 10km to buy fresh water at vast expense for her family. ‘I used to feel so scared going to fetch the water because it was often windy and it was frightening because of the waves.’

Christian Aid partner Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies has worked in villages across southwestern Bangladesh such as Minu’s to establish Pani Parishad, or village water councils, which provide community-based approaches to delivering sustainable water solutions.

Minu did not know she had the power or the voice to change things until she joined the village Pani Parishad. Through the Pani Parishad, Minu has learned how to safely gather and store rainwater and how to inspire others to do the same.

Taxes aren’t burdens, things to be “relieved” or “sheltered” from: they certainly aren’t there to be dodged. Taxes are an investment in the society you are part of and benefit from. It is time to call time on tax dodging!