Thursday, April 21, 2016

Information about Debbie's funeral

Here is a bit more information for Debbie’s funeral tomorrow at 1pm
If you’re not familiar with the location, the church is on Church Street, Morecambe. Parking is limited, and we need to ensure there is space for the funeral cars, so the primary school playground next door will be open for parking, there is a pay and display car park on Matthias Street by the Town Hall, and also on-street parking in nearby roads.
Church will be open from 12 Noon, with music playing chosen by Debbie. We expect a lot of people, so there will be a video relay across in the War Memorial Hall . Please don’t worry about bringing children - Debbie would want them to know they are welcome. If you are worried about how they might cope with being in the service, you can always take them to the hall instead and follow things from there.
Tea, coffee and cake will be served over in the hall after the service finishes for those who don’t wish to attend the committal. Please note the journey to Dalton woodland burial ground takes about 25 mins, so we will be a while before we return to join in.
You are welcome to come to Dalton, but please bear in mind that parking is limited. If you are driving there, please try and make sure you take a full car, as that will help the pressure on space. The weather is currently good, so we don’t anticipate it being muddy. Even if it stays dry, do make sure your shoes can cope with the ground being uneven. If it rains, we’ll need something waterproof on our feet.
Whether or you can stay on after the service or not, please don't leave before signing one of our special memory books over in the Memorial Hall. We would really like to have a record of everyone who attended. Just writing your name is fine, but feel free to add anything else (or even draw something!) If you’re bringing children, please make sure you have a few crayons or felt tips for them to join in.
You can make a donation on the day, which will be split between St John’s Hospice and Messy Church. We will also be setting up something on Justgiving soon.

Update: Click here for information about donating and downloading a song Debs wrote.

Thank you for all the cards and greetings. We can’t hope to respond to them all, but we have read them and they are appreciated.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Debbie, September 1992

I am sorry to have to let you know that Debbie died at St John’s Hospice on Wed 13 April at around 5.50pm. She had not been conscious for a couple of days, and spent the day sleeping, calm and in no discomfort or pain. I was there with Jono, Ellie and Amy when the end came, and it was very peaceful.

The Hospice was where Debbie wanted to be for this stage of her illness, and we are glad that was able to be the case. We are very grateful to all the staff who have made her stay so comfortable, and who have been so hospitable to us.

Debbie's funeral will take place at Morecambe Parish Church, Church Street, Morecambe at 1pm on Friday April 22, followed by burial at Dalton Woodland Burial Ground. Please don't feel obliged to wear black - wear whatever you think appropriately reflects your relationship with Debbie, and what she means to you.

As you would expect, the service was planned by Debbie in advance and has features that very much speak of her. One of them is that Debbie wanted to invite everyone to bring a natural flower to the service - there will be a point where they will be gathered during the service. There's no need to bring a big bunch, and please don't worry about it - we’ll have flowers available for anyone who hasn’t got one.

Everyone is welcome to come to the burial ground for the final part of the service. It is a just short walk from the parking area to the location of the burial. The main path is quite firm, but please bear in mind that some of the ground might be soft going, so have some appropriate footwear with you.

There will be an opportunity to make an financial offering on the day and the money will be divided equally between St John’s Hospice and the work of the national Messy Church team. Anyone not able to come can send a donation for Debbie to the Funeral Directors, Alex Willis Funeral Home, 2 Middleton Road, Heysham, Lancashire LA3 2QD

Thank you for accompanying us on this journey.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Don Humphries RIP

It was very sad to learn of Don's death this week. As I look back over the time I have been in some kind of Christian ministry (as a lay assistant, then in training, then ordained for 25 years) his influence is probably the most significant. This isn't an attempt at a comprehensive obituary - it's about the person I knew.

Don at a Holy Trinity, Cambridge Church picnic around 1986/7

The first time I heard of Don was at our church youth group. The Sunday night meetings always ended with a time of open prayer, and some of the group members earnestly prayed for him for a few weeks. It turned out that he had had pancreatitis and major surgery. In 1978 I met him for the first time, when I went as a teenager on of the CYFA holidays [aka houseparties or ventures] that he ran. Based in a boarding school in Clevedon, hired during the holiday, it was a lot of fun, games, getting to know people, as well as talks and worship. I liked it so much I kept going - at different venues during summers and new year reunions. Eventually I ended up on the leadership team, and worked for Don from 1985-7, when he was at Holy Trinity, Cambridge. Part of my job was promoting ventures and organising them.

Looking back, Don was a fascinating character. He was full of seeming contradictions, yet when you got to know him, it all made a kind of sense. He could be quite a control freak, yet was willing to trust relative novices with big responsibilities. He could be dogmatic, yet had a team who represented a broad range of views and always warned against simplistic responses to complex questions. He wasn't beyond a sexist comment, yet became an early evangelical champion for women's ministry in the church, when it wasn't commonplace to do so. He was very open to the charismatic movement, yet never one for hype or pushing people to expect or have experiences of a particular kind. He could be quite intimidating, and some people were scared of him, yet he shared his vulnerabilities and had an openness unusual in strong leaders. It created a deep sense of loyalty, and the venture team have always felt like an extended family for many of us.

Don had more than his fair share of suffering - as well as the pancreatitis, I mentioned earlier, he lost a son, Thomas, at only a few weeks old. It happened during a venture holiday, and none of us who were there could forget it. Don and Zoe even came and spoke to help us understand what was going on. Later Don developed Parkinson's disease, which for a number of years didn't seem to diminish his enthusiasm for ministry. After he offered, I invited him to speak at the church where I was based in Coventry in the mid 90s for a special Harvest weekend. He also acted as a mentor for me for the time I was there, asking good questions and offering wise advice.

Latterly we were less in touch, but I got to his marriage to Sarah, and as Steve Tilley has also recalled, he memorably cut the cake with shaking hand he said "there may be casualties" - typical humour. I kept sending him a card and news at Christmas. He didn't always manage one back, but I know all of us who had grown up with his ministry were in his thoughts and prayers.

Would I be a Christian without Don's ministry? Probably - I already was when I met him, but his encouragement was key to me seeing faith as more than attending or 'consuming' what other people produced, and seeing it as something to inform, challenge and tranform you life. Would I have had confidence to take responsibility, do things up front and eventually move into ministry? Probably not. Don inspired, challenged, critiqued and supported many of us on that journey. For some it was to ordained ministry, but to others it was to being missionaries, youth workers, and perhaps most importantly to being Christians getting stuck in at their churches and in their communities.

Don's illness meant that he didn't have the career he might have expected, but his influence on the church may well be greater than some who achieved higher office. Those of us who knew and loved him will always have a deep sense of gratitude to all he gave us.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Matter of Life and Death

A lot of friends and acquaintances will know that Debbie has been blogging since her diagnosis with cancer back in February. If you've read one of her most recent posts you'll know that we are now in a phase where containing the progress of her illness is probably the most we can hope for.

During this time, I was asked whether I was going to blog about it from the point of view of someone close to a person with cancer. I'm not quite sure what has held me back from doing so until now - perhaps not feeling it's 'my' story, not wanting to appear to wallow in things, or simply not knowing what to say. However, as our family has gone on this unexpected and unwelcome journey with cancer, I have been aware of a few recurring themes, so I thought I'd have a try at putting some of them into words in a few posts. This first try isn't a carefully thought out article - it's just what's bubbling in my mind at the moment.

We are in a strange phase now, not having any real idea of how long we may have, but a sense that this indeterminate period of time has an end point. Debbie has been physically constrained by her illness, but is very much here and with us - in and around the house, sharing meals, conversation, laughter, watching TV, writing and blogging and in many ways being her usual self. So we have a kind of double track going on - valuing the present, and also making sensible preparations for what is to come. Debs and I were only talking yesterday about how disconcerting, but necessary, it is for me to think myself into a future without her, even when she's in front of me and talking to me. Yet even as I write that down, it's quite hard to believe it's me typing it.

Since Debbie's current condition was confirmed, I have realised how weird it is to be a clergyperson. For 25 years I've been spending time with people who have been seriously and terminally ill, I've been with them close to and at the time of death, I've been with next of kin when they've heard of diagnoses and bereavements, I've prepared and taken hundreds of funerals and helped people find bereavement support. Does that make any difference? I guess it's a classic 'yes and no' response. Bereavement won't be any easier for me emotionally, than it would be for anyone else, but it will, at least, be familiar territory.

My experience is that for most people, conversation about death or dying is completely alien. I meet adults who have rarely, if ever, gone to a funeral or seen someone who has died. Many were prevented from attending funerals as children, and carry 'baggage' from that with them into their adult experience. It's fairly unusual to meet someone who has a clear and full idea of everything that's involved around the death of someone. And, of course, most people want to stay in denial that someone might die, until the issue is forced upon them by necessity. I have witnessed, and have felt, the great temptation for people to cling on to any hint of an upturn in someone's condition as the sign of a major recovery. Under those circumstances, any discussion of the subject of dying tends to be suppressed, as if talking about it will make it more likely.

If I was going to offer any advice out of my experience, it would be to encourage people to start talking about death and dying - what you hope for and what you fear, how you'd like to be remembered, and even some first thoughts on what sort of ceremony you would hope for. Do this before it's too late, and preferably when you have some time to think, read, research and discuss. I'm glad we have had some time to do this - it means we can go forward into whatever the coming time may hold, with some key decisions made, knowing it will be easier for those of us who are left. Crucially we'll know that one of the most important events in our life with each other was not a taboo that held us in fear, but a daunting challenge that we prepared for together.

In case any of that has helped, here's a couple of useful resources and links that might help to get you started:

Church of England Funerals Site Lots of information about ceremonies and practicalities.

November is Will Aid month, so it's a good time to get one written/updated and support some great charities in the process.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Why I didn't share a picture of Alan [Aylan] Kurdi

Today my news feed on Facebook has been filled with pictures of a little boy, Alan Kurdi*, lying dead on a beach, or being carried away by a Turkish police officer. Some of these have come from the feeds I get from newspapers, some have been associated with posts protesting about our government's attitude to Syrian refugees, and some have been posted by various angry friends on Facebook.

I fully understand why people are angry about the situation, and it appears that there has now been some movement in the British government's standpoint, although it's not yet clear what the outcome will be. There is a strong argument that an iconic image can sometimes be the only way to move things forward. For example, the photograph from Vietnam of Phan Thi Kim Phuc probably went some way to ending the US involvement in that war, and Michael Buerk's report from Ethiopia for the BBC mobilised Band / Live Aid in the mid 1980s.

Despite this, I still felt a profound unease about the pictures circulating of Alan, and I have been trying to work out why I feel that way. You may well have come to a different conclusion, and I understand, but sometimes it's good to ask ourselves searching questions. What was it that makes this different for me?

The central issue for me is the different media context we are now in. As soon as those terribly sad images became available online, they were circulating around social networks, blogs and websites everywhere. That's very different to them being embedded in a particular TV report, perhaps including warnings of the distressing nature of the material. And that's one of my uneasy feelings - publication of pictures of the dead are not commonplace, and there are usually some warnings for people about seeing them. Alan was unmissable on Facebook and Twitter today, and I'm sure many people, wanted that to be the case to get across the plight of refugees. I just don't think that was right method or the right use of images.

Let me try and explain, using a very different story. The other day I was talking to a man who, as a young soldier, volunteered to go and help at the Aberfan tragedy in south Wales, which killed 116 children and 28 adults. Understandably, the trauma of that affected him and his beliefs very profoundly, and I could still see it in his face. In fact, I can remember the grainy pictures on the TV news, and my mum explaining to me that children had died at school. I had just started school, and it happened on 21 Oct 1966 - the start of half-term.

It was a terrible tragedy, and there were a lot of difficult questions that needed answering about how the school had been put in danger. There were pictures of bodies - covered up, of course - being carried away. I vividly remember one photograph of a police officer carrying a survivor to safety. But with all that grief and sadness, if Facebook had existed, would anyone have posted a picture of a dead child, demanding answers from the National Coal Board? You can understand that anger might drive someone to do that, but it would have inflicted terrible grief on the child's family and community. Perhaps it's a mercy the technology wasn't available - I'm sure the newspapers, radio and TV were more than enough to bear for a community stricken with unimaginable sadness.

Alan's father, Abdullah, is still alive, although his mother and brother also died. It may be that Abdullah hasn't yet seen what is going on social media, and if that's true, it will be a mercy. I gather Alan's aunt lives in Canada. I wonder what it has been (and will be) like for them seeing these images coming up again and again, every time she goes on the internet. Ther's no notion of consent here. What do they think, and what are they feeling?

I've done a few children's funerals and on a couple of occasions I have been asked to hold the child, and when the request came, it was clearly important to the parents that I did so. You never forget moments like that, and I'm sure that Turkish police officer won't ever forget carrying Alan off the beach. He doesn't need constant reminders from social media, believe me.

Some posts have been even more confrontational with the image - as if using it gives the person posting an extra moral authority. Of course there need to be records of awful events - it's important lest we forget - but that doesn't mean that every detail of every awful event needs to be put out there, especially when emotions of those closest to the person are so recent and raw. And some posts seem to be portraying this as something new. Hundreds of people, including children, have been dying en route to Europe for months. That doesn't in any way diminish the terrible sadness of the death of Alan and other members of his family; they point us to a much wider community sharing similar experiences.

So I won't be sharing the pictures. That doesn't mean I don't care.

* Alan was Kurdish and according to his father, that is the correct spelling. The Turkish version of his name is Aylan.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Rector, The MP and the Foodbank

David Morris MP has now replied to my second letter about his remarks concerning Morecambe Bay Foodbank. As a lot of people have shown an interest in this matter, I thought a final blog post was in order.

In his reply, Mr Morris made no reference to his comments in the Visitor, but rather asserted that he stands by his statement on his website (which is not easy to find) and has no intention of changing his position. He alleges that the Foodbank is politicised and that he has raised concerns about that with the Trussell Trust. He ended the letter saying that this concludes the correspondence he will engage with on this matter.

This leaves me with a few questions. Since Mr Morris won't engage with this further, I simply put them out there.

1) Why didn't David Morris address my specific challenge to his statement that the Foodbank was "started and run by the Labour Party"?

It is entirely plausible that the Foodbank has volunteers who are politically active, including ones aligned with the Labour Party. When I visited there was no discussion of political affiliation, but on enquiring, I understood there to be a range.

The Foodbank can't be held responsible for the political affiliation of those prepared to commit time for volunteering; the question is whether he can demonstrate that the Foodbank has been politically biased in its recruitment of volunteers.

Even if there is a disproportionate representation for Labour in the volunteer team, there is a great deal of difference between that being true and the Foodbank being started and run by the Labour Party. And what (or who) does he mean by "the Labour Party" in his allegation?

2) Why won't David Morris visit the Foodbank?

As an MP representing a political party which purports to encourage volunteering and charitable activity, I find it very strange that he hasn't visited long ago. He has said he now fears being ambushed by a political stunt: "they want me to walk through that door, take a picture of me and shout at me". Potentially any public appearance by an MP can turn into a shouting match. It suggests a lack of political courage that he isn't prepared to go and defend his corner. Much as I disliked their policies, I can't imagine that Norman Tebbitt or Mrs Thatcher would have been deterred.

It also demonstrates a lack of faith in the hand of fellowship the Methodist minister offered him in his most recent invitation. I am confident that any minister would do all they could to show hospitality, even if they disagreed profoundly. In the Visitor David Morris said he will go with national Trussell Trust and Social Services staff, so I hope he sees that through and pro-actively seeks to arrange to do so.

Another mystery about this is that in parliament on 17 Dec 2014 Mr Morris said "I have never been invited to a food bank in my constituency, although I would love to go..." (see the full text here). He also questions the levels of take up stated by the Trussell Trust. Morecambe Bay Foodbank say that 3 invitations were issued, along with a 4th indirect approach. Furthermore, the church minister also wrote to invite him. It's bewildering why he would deny this.

3) What data does Mr Morris actually want?

As stated above, Mr Morris suggested in his comments on 17 Dec 2014 that the data for Foodbanks was unclear. I have seen data being entered into the system at Morecambe Bay Foodbank, I have seen the referral forms which have to be signed by professional in the area, and I have seen the stock taking and record keeping taking place. I am sure that if Mr Morris mustered the courage to visit and explained exactly what stats he required, they could be called up for him there and then.

4) If Morecambe Bay Foodbank is really so politicised, why hasn't he taken action much sooner to get its charitable status withdrawn or reviewed?

Many individuals and organisations are supporting and donating to Morecambe Bay Foodbank in good faith that it is a legitimate charity, operating within the rules and parameters for a charity. My own parish has donated some money and we have also sent other assistance. If an organisation is not operating legitimately as a charity in the local area, but is pretending that all is well, we need to know about it and be protected from it. Surely Mr Morris has a duty of care to us all if he has compelling evidence that the Foodbank is masquerading as something that it isn't. The fact that he has not done so after so many months leads me to conclude that he doesn't possess such evidence.

If, as Mr Morris implies, Morecambe Bay Foodbank were a covert organ of the Labour Party, it's been very subtle in its methods. There is, of course, uncomfortable evidence for the government in foodbank data, but I have seen no promotion of any of the opposition parties in any of the literature I have seen, or in conversations I have held.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Follow Up letter to David Morris MP

I thought I'd publish the text of my follow-up letter to our MP concerning Morecambe Bay Foodbank

Dear Mr Morris,

You may recall that on 21st May of this year I emailed a letter to you with regard to your reported comments about Morecambe Bay Foodbank – specifically that it was “set up and run by the Labour Party”. This concerned me, as I knew it was not true, and I was concerned that if that rumour gained traction, it could discourage people of other political persuasions from donating and volunteering. I am a Trustee of West End Impact, another charity addressing some of social needs in the most deprived areas of our town, and I know how key the goodwill of the public is in supporting our work.

I know the remarks attributed to you to be incorrect, because my wife, Debbie, when working as County Ecumenical Officer for Churches Together in Lancashire hosted a lunch here at the Rectory. People present included Rev Peter Brown - the minister of Brookhouse Methodist Church, Rev Stephen Poxon – then District Chair for the North Lancashire District of the Methodist Church, and Deacon Eunice Attwood – the 2010 Vice President of Methodist Conference (the national governing body for the Methodist Church in Britain).

At that lunch, Peter shared his vision for starting up a foodbank at the old Central Methodist Church, and how they were negotiating with the Trussell Trust in taking that forward. I remember the conversation well, as I encouraged him to build links with others doing similar work, such as West End Impact and Morecambe Homeless Action.

The text of my original letter is included for your reference. I made it an open letter, posted on my blog, as I wanted as many people as possible to be reassured that Morecambe Bay Foodbank is not an organ of the local Labour Party. Indeed a local minister thanked me, as they have some Conservative voting members in their church who are very active charitably and regularly take food to the Foodbank. They had been rather alarmed by what you said, and were only reassured when they were able to read my reply.

My reasons for writing now are two-fold. First of all, I am disappointed that you haven’t yet replied to my original letter and that you haven’t issued a public correction for the remarks attributed to you by The Visitor. The second is that I gather a new piece on the issue has appeared this week in Private Eye. The only contact I have initiated with the media about this issue was a follow-up letter in the Visitor, summarising what I said and pointing people to my blog. I was also aware that the Church Times showed a brief interest in the story. The unexpected reappearance of the story in the ‘Eye’ has prompted me to contact you again.

Can I encourage you to resolve this matter by meeting with the Foodbank team? I visited soon after I sent you the first letter, and I have seen the hard work they do, the painstaking records they keep, and have also spent time chatting to clients, including an ex-para with acute PTSD. I have also seen a copy of the letter Rev Peter Brown sent you, inviting you to visit, and would strongly encourage you to accept.

Responding to the needs in front of our noses and at our doors is central to the work of these charities and volunteers, and I’m proud that churches are at the forefront of this in Morecambe.  As our MP, I would have hoped that you might want to celebrate and affirm constituents who freely give their time and energy. Working in this area also means that we have questions and uncomfortable truths for the politicians who set policy, which arise from our work. However, that doesn’t necessitate you treating the foodbank as hostile. As Robert Key, Conservative MP for Salisbury 1983-2010, and trustee of the Trussell Trust wrote recently “The … task for some in Government is to stop pretending that food banks are left-wing, anti-government troublemakers” *. I think his advice is worth listening to.

Yours Sincerely

Mike Peatman

* Robert Key: Six ways the Government can tackle poverty and work with food banks. Published on Conservative Home website

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Politicians and Prayers

I heard a discussion on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme today about the new Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, and his Christian faith.

You can listen or download it here

Tim was a colleague of mine at St Martin's College in Lancaster (now Uni of Cumbria) where he worked as a senior administrator in one of the faculties. He sometimes attended our midweek chapel worship when he was on campus, so we had a few conversations. I do remember him talking to me about his decision to go into politics. He's well-liked in his nearby constituency, and the testimony to that is that he held on to his seat in the midst of the demise of the Liberal Democrats at the last General Election.

As far as I am aware, Tim has never made any secret of his Christian faith. It's no surprise that being a Christian means you believe in God, and prayer is one of the fundamental activities. It would be quite weird, therefore, to exclude a whole area of one's life from ever being mentioned in one's own prayers. So it logically follows that a politician who is a practising Christian (or indeed of any other theistic faith) is going to bring their work into their prayers.

What's interesting is that this seemed to disconcert John Humphrys and Polly Toynbee. Polly Toynbee seemed to be saying today that he should avoid giving the impression of consulting God, and that thinking God is there is a private matter. What she didn't seem to understand was that it's not really feasible. Christian prayer is about bringing the whole of yourself to God with all your concerns, fears, hopes, dreams, brokenness, thanksgiving, etc. We don't recognise the notion that there are bits of ourselves we can't pray about.
NB It's worth noting that Tim Farron talked about prayer in response to a question on the subject from John Humphrys..

Of course, the fear that lies behind Polly Toynbee's concerns is that a politician with a religious faith might claim that God is 'on their side'. Many people in faith communities will recognise the issues that can arise if someone moves along the spectrum from saying they have prayed about something (which leaves open the answer, and retains some humility about the result) and saying that God has told them to do something. We sometimes see it in over-controlling church leaders, and it has had tragic results in politics and conflicts. I quite agree that such people are terrifying both for those with religious beliefs and those with none. However, that is not a fair description of MPs who have a faith and practise it. In fact, Christians In Parliament is a cross-party association, which indicates that the most active Christian MPs clearly don't think that God inhabits only their party, or is solely 'on their side'.

The whole discussion struck me as quite amusing this morning at our services today, as we prayed for those who govern and those who represent us. If the established church routinely prays for those who carry political responsibility, then I can't see why politicians shouldn't be free to pray for themselves without criticism.

No doubt Tim Farron will face much more scrutiny as he begins the unenviable task of reviving the fortunes of the Lib Dems. I hope the discussion moves on from where it is now, to the direction he wants to take party policy, and how he might make his party electable again. I don't envy him that job, and I reckon he will need all the prayers he can get.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Belated review of Fleetwood Mac in concert. Manchester Arena, Wed July 1

Don't Stop (Fleetwood Mac song)
Don't Stop (Fleetwood Mac song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ages ago I managed to get hold of some tickets for  one of the Manchester dates for Fleetwood Mac in concert.

They're a band with an interesting history. Originally a 1960s blues band, with its own great sound and history, it lost the genius of Peter Green and the band had to reinvent itself to survive.

They became a key part of the mid 1970s soundtrack when Steve Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined, and before too long, tracks from 'Rumours' became almost inescapable. That's a long time ago, and there has been more music and plenty of comings and going since then. Nothing was likely to top Rumours, though

Christine McVie retired from touring in 1998, so it looked unlikely that a full Rumours-era line-up would ever tour again. However, she agreed to come out of retirement for a full tour, and so we grabbed what might be a last opportunity to hear some of those songs performed by the people who recorded them.

With Debbie's illness there was at least a question mark over whether we would get there at all, but we incorporated the gig date into a mini-break in Manchester to allow plenty of rest beforehand. That way we could walk to the Arena and back with no problems.

The gig was great. There was no support, so they came on around 815/820pm and as Songbird closed the second encore, I think it was about 10-50pm. Not bad for a bunch of people in their 60s and 70s. Stevie Nicks prowled the stage for most of the time, the tone of her voice perhaps a little harsher, but still all there. Christine McVie - (72 yrs old yesterday) features on all of my favourite songs from that era, and she still sounds great too. Her solo at the end was very special. Meanwhile Lindsey Buckingham danced round the stage like a 25 year old and reminded me that not only can he sing, he's a much better guitarist than I remember.

The two guys who give the band their name kept the whole thing running. John McVie quietly got on with playing bass, as many bass players do. Meanwhile Mick Fleetwood managed to include some little speeches, a solo slot, and also a few songs on a second smaller drum kit closer to the front and his band-mates.

We got most of 'Rumours', a few from 'Fleetwood Mac' and the best of what has come since. It was a great performance of a crowd-pleasing set-list by a group who knew exactly what to do, and that seemed exactly right for something that may well turn out to be a farewell tour for this particular configuration of the band.

However, there's talk of a new album, so you never know...

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Budget: a few thoughts in the aftermath

I don't judge budgets by the "what's in it for me?" criterion that most commentators tend to apply. There's this rather worthy-sounding streak in me that says they should be judged on what they do for the nation, and especially those in most need. It's also quite complex to assess the impact as it's being delivered.

George Osborne's latest budget has left us with plenty to think about. Beforehand, he passed on the cost of the free TV licence for over-75s to the BBC. That was a welfare top-up by Gordon Brown to win favour with pensioners At the time, the money would arguably have been better spent on more targeted help for those who really needed it. As my (now 87 yr old) dad said, it was very nice, but he could afford his licence quite easily. Now the cost is carried by the BBC, and by implication licence fee payers. Any attempt to remove or reduce the benefit will now generate ill-feeling for the BBC, not George Osborne. He has effectively delegated a liability and potential blame.

This tendency to offload things went through the Budget itself. Costs were passed on to businesses, and the big surprise was a new living wage (in fact a rebrand of the minimum wage, set below the level of what was previously known as the living wage) This passes on responsibility for lifting people out of poverty from government to business. At one level, that seems entirely reasonable. The tax credit regime may well have enabled businesses to get away with low levels of pay. But this budget sought to offload the responsibility for what will become about £4bn relief to business, whilst £12bn was cut from welfare (including 'in-work' benefits) not necessarily from people who would benefit from a minimum wage increase.

That brings us to the tax credit cuts. They seem to have had a peculiarly adverse effect on clergy. One friend of mine has 3 school-age children, and his wife has chosen not to take paid employment in order to give voluntary time in the community. He took advice and found he will lose £207 per month. That's a lot to readjust your domestic budget for. Other colleagues report annual cuts of £1700, £1500 and £1300. According to the BBC online calculator, we'll lose about £890. The changes in minimum wage won't make any difference and the changes in tax threshold are already taken into account.

Now it's true that the majority of clergy don't go into the ministry for the money - you'd be a mug to do so, and most of us accept that a call to ministry means sacrifice. But clergy don't run the risk of being made homeless, as the house is provided (although that's a problem at retirement!). For most of us, it will mean being a bit more careful with the heating, using comparison sites for every major purchase or utility, shopping around at budget stores and supermarkets and taking more modest holidays. Clergy are also fortunate enough to have some charitable grants we can apply for to help with finance in times of need. It all makes things a bit harder work, and bit more austere, but we won't be homeless.

What really worries me is that if it's bad for clergy, then what are the proposed cuts going to do to others who are struggling to pay their mortgages and other bills. These changes could mean families losing their homes, and all the problems of homelessness that follow. If the calculations are right, then some of the poorer families will be absolutely clobbered by this budget. Foodbanks have already seen a surge in demand in the cuts so far; I fear we will see much more in the weeks and months to come.

So is it really worth putting people's homes at risk to enable £1,000,000 to be left in a will, tax free? Were there no alternatives? Were the money markets really so worried that we had to cut back so quickly? Is it really such a pressing necessity to get a budget surplus? It hasn't been for most of the last century.

So thanks, Mr Osborne. I'm sure I'll find ways to save £75 per month from our domestic budget - we will cope, but don't try to fool us that we will be better off as a result of your budget. We won't.