Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Growing up in Scotland

THE number of children living in poverty in Scotland is totally unacceptable.

According to Save the Children today, 95,000 young people, almost 10 percent of all children in Scotland, are living with families that have less than £33-a-day to spend. The poorest families in Scotland are on average £113-a-week short of enough money to cover essential costs.

A year ago this week, we launched our Growing up in Scotland Report at Holyrood and presented the full report at last year’s General Assembly highlighting this issue. Poverty as this level questions our status as an advanced society.We will continue to campaign and to lobby parliamentarians north and south of the border to act to end child poverty.

In my parish in the Gorbals I see real human suffering because of poverty that grinds down the human soul and prevents people from believing that they matter. The news also released today in the Social Attitudes survey that only a minority of people in the UK think we should seriously address issues of inequality fills me with dread for the future.
Yet our politicians can take a powerful moral lead on this issue and whoever is in charge of running the UK and Scotland in 2010 will have the power to prevent poverty from blighting the lives of thousands of families everywhere and restore our claim to be an inclusive society.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Moratorium on debt for Haiti: Charity or Justice?

Scotland’s contributions to the relief aid sent to Haiti have so far reached 3.5 million, which is 8% of the 53 million pledged so far. Examples of the involvement of Scottish people abound. Take for example the work of Rev. Neil Galbraith, chief executive of Glasgow the Caring City and in charge of Cathcart Old Parish Church. The charity is providing urgent medical supplies as well as establishing the long term goal of rebuilding one of the schools of the island. Mary’s Meals, administered through Scottish International Relief has been providing for the past four years meals for over 12,000 school children in Haiti. However, it seems to me that a deeper level of involvement and going beyond immediate humanitarian relief is needed.

Haiti’s current level of debt is around 640 million dollars. How can a society facing their worst earthquake in 200 years afford to pay interest of about 50 million dollars just to service the debt? There is an urgent need for debt cancellation, not just a moratorium on interest payments for five years.

Reconstruction efforts should be based on empowering the Haitian society to achieve a sustainable society. A moratorium on interest repayment is without a doubt short term help with crippling effects in the distance. This is not about charity it is about justice.

Photograph provided by Cecilia.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Assisted Suicide Bill

I see that we are finally to get sight of Margo MacDonald’s bill on assisted suicide. Whilst it will be good to see what is actually being proposed, there will be nothing in it that will help me agree with its first principle, that essentially we are all autonomous individuals whose lives are in the last analysis unconnected to others. Our humanness is intrinsically bound up in our relationships. It's in our relationships we find meaning and in loving and being loved that we flourish.

I am also deeply worried that, no matter how hard legislators work at “protecting” the innocent from being abused, some-one will try to find a way round the law for their own ends. It would be better to leave the law as it is than to approach it from the view that says it's ok to help some-one end their lives and we’ll try to make sure that we protect those who might be abused,(lose their lives!), by our laws, which we know, can never account for every circumstance.

Monday, 18 January 2010


I first met Nicola Boland just over a year ago now. Life for the 19-year-old from Provanhill nearly turned out so different from what it is today. You see, she was literally saved from what her life could have ended up being. She freely tells the story that in her younger days she was “involved in a good few bits of gang violence,” around where she grew up in. Yet she has turned her life around.

Three years ago she was given a “wake-up” call that spurred her to change her life. That wake up call was the violent and tragic end to her best friend’s life in a brutal murder. She pulled herself away from that life and is now training to be a youth worker. Nicola’s involvement with St Paul’s Church in Provanhill and a local radio station run by the church’s youth club has transformed her life.

It is for Nicola and others like her that the Kirk continues tirelessly to provide support to the young, the disenfranchised and those on the edge of society.

And it is for that reason on Wednesday that the Church is launching a new strategy for helping the country’s most disadvantaged youngsters, “An Option for the Young.”

This is a clear sign of people across Scotland (because it couldn't be done without the support of more affluent parishes) combining to make a difference in the lives of some of our most disadvantaged young people - and in the process, showing that the Church is getting it's priorities right even in hard financial times.
We are here to make a difference in people’s lives and reach out with a hand. Why – because, that’s what we do and to give those that need it, the chance of a new and transformed life.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Indirect costs of Alcohol Misuse

The claim that alcohol abuse costs each on of us around £900 a year will be challenged by some for being based on some big assumptions, but there’s no doubt that alcohol abuse remains a blight on all our lives. The costs of alcohol abuse are not just financial but eat at the very souls of those whose families have to cope with its effects. Misuse affects not just the person who drinks, but all the family members as well. 

The trouble is that this not simply about the actions of some individuals but about our very culture. We need to change our collective attitude to alcohol. The Church of Scotland is supporting minimum pricing by asking it's membership to write to drinks producers to say that they should work with the Government on this issue.

It is a strange campaign in a way; saying "we want to pay more, not less, for a wee bit pleasure". It won’t stop all alcohol abuse in Scotland but it might help to drive the message home that currently the price we pay as a nation for our alcohol consumption is more expensive socially and spiritually, than financially.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

And the Children shall Lead

David Cameron  was reported as saying that children benefit more from the warmth of their relationship with their parents than from the wealth of the family into which they are born. That’s not rocket science. The Conservative leader also said that “active intervention” was needed to help struggling families, as he hinted that Sure Start (the children and families health and education programme) might be restricted to the less wealthy. At last year’s General Assembly, children and young people were at the forefront of our minds as I delivered our report “Growing up in Scotland".

I still speak on this issue because children are neither peripheral nor preliminary. They are central. From the time of Abraham they are a sing of hope for the future. The  Growing up in Scotland report included recommendations to the SNP administration and Labour government, on dealing with issues affecting children and young people from crime and anti-social behaviour to ending child poverty and exploitation. Children are not  all rugged individuals. They rely on adults they know and on thousands more people, like Mr Cameron, who will make decisions that will affect their lives and wellbeing.A major plank of government strategy has been to encourage and support parents into work and introduce new forms of welfare assistance such as tax credits.

The most important work to help a new generation is done quietly, behind the scenes, in our homes, schools and neighbourhoods.  No government or scheme  can love a child and no policy can substitute for a family’s care.

The word of life, the quality of life

NEARLY half of Scots say recession stress makes it harder to juggle the demands of work and family, according to research released on Monday.

I’m not surprised by the figures from Scottish Widows. They reveal that nearly half – 46 percent – of working parents and grandparents said they were not putting their families first due to time pressures. Almost a third of working parents said they wanted more time to spend with family and friends. Job insecurity and longer hours caused by the downturn have left almost one in five feeling more stressed, while a fifth say they have to work up to 11 hours longer each week because of the recession. Family breakdown, changing workforce patterns and the resultant impact on childcare arrangements provide an extremely challenging set of pressures on parents. In many families, grandparents and extended family members do play an increasingly important role in looking after children, but the quality of life is missing. The Church has many duties and responsibilities. High among them is holding out the “word of life which certainly includes the intention that the many and not just the few have a good quality of life.

Adoption by same Sex-Couples

The Church of Scotland was quoted in yesterday’s Daily Mail as saying, in response to a story about adoption by a Lesbian couple, that homosexual relationships were “profoundly unstable”, when in fact the quote came not from us but from somewhere entirely different. When the General Assembly debated this issue, it was quite clear that what matters are the best interests of the child concerned, and therefore was not in principle opposed to adoption by same sex couples if those interests were best served – though it reaffirmed that traditional marriage remains the Church’s preferred option for the bringing up of children.

Some papers contact the Church when they are looking for an easy quote to support their own position. This time the Mail got it wrong. I wait with bated breath for their apology. The wellbeing of vulnerable children is much more important than papers with an axe to grind. Long may that continue, and let’s hope more children who need adoptive parents find the right people volunteering for the job.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Sabbath

I was phoned by a journalist wanting to know what I thought of car salesman Peter Vardy closing his showrooms on a Sunday to let his staff spend time with their families. Now I was surprised not so much by the journalist’s question but by Peter Vardy’s decision. After all, he’s a businessman. He believes that what he may gain in sales through Sunday opening, his staff lose out when it comes to family. He’s right.

I’ve often spoken about poverty. But there is another kind of poverty, the lack of time spent with friends, family, and others you could be with. A couple of months ago I was in Germany and one Sunday I visited a town where not a single shop was open. People were out and about with their families. That is a value on Sunday that is above money.

Busyness or fruitfulness – that is the question. Is your life full of meaningful accomplishments or just busy activities? The truth is busyness does not guarantee fruitfulness. It is the quality of what our lives produce that determines whether or not we are truly fruitful. It’s time to be with those we care about and reclaim the Sabbath for what it is.

Photograph by JackofallTrades.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The cost of free meals

I was shocked to read recently that almost 14% of Scottish children live in homes where no-one is earning a wage. In Glasgow that figure rose to 24.5% (that’s almost one child in four). This is only to get worse as the credit crunch continues. So at a time of great need, why is the Scottish Government proposing to dump the deal to provide free school meals to every 5 -7 year old?

Food in the stomachs of young children through free school meals removes stigma, improves health and there is plenty of evidence that links healthy balanced meals with educational achievement. Food for our children’s minds and bodies is surely what we’d want to spend our money on.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

We need to know the truth

The Church of Scotland has been banging on about the Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre which has been blamed on the pilots since it happened in 1994. Only this year The Moderator Bill Hewitt wrote to the Prime Minister and asked for a review of the case. He got a reply that included this paragraph
“Although the Ministry of Defence remains open to representations and evidence on this issue, unless compelling new evidence is presented of some actual, (rather than hypothetical), failure of the airframe, avionics or engines, it is unlikely that the official position [to not reconsider the judgement] will change.”
The evidence presented this week by the BBC and others would seem to more than meet the criteria set by MOD themselves for a new inquiry. We need to know the truth and the Church will not rest until we get it.