Ross Ahlfeld: Let's back the Give Me Five campaign to increase child benefit

Catholic Workers activist and CommonSpace columnist Ross Ahlfeld is backing efforts to ease families' financial hardships

"The future will be different if we make the present different." Peter Maurin

LAST MONTH, I was kindly invited to the excellent Conforti Institute in Coatbridge by our friends at Justice and Peace Scotland for the launch of their Give Me Five campaign. 

It's a campaign which they launched in partnership with CPAG Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, One Parent Families Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Children’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, and many others.

This broad coalition of third sector, civil society and faith groups is calling on the Scottish Government to use its new social security powers to top up child benefit by £5 per week for every child in Scotland. The Give Me Five campaign also aims to lift 30,000 children in Scotland out of poverty.

The social conditions of depression-era New York are not the social conditions of Scotland in 2017 and, as such, we Catholic Workers support this campaign for all sorts of reasons.

The launch was a very special day, and it was a privilege to be at the Conforti Institute on behalf of Catholic Workers alongside various other Christian denominations, different faith communities and charities. 

It was also good to hear the thoughts of the Moderator, Dr Browning and Bishop Nolan of Galloway, as well as those from the various voluntary organisations.

For example, the Poverty Alliance also pointed out that one in four children in Scotland live in poverty. Seventy per cent of those children live in working families and increasing child benefit would boost family incomes and improve children’s life chances.

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that this type of campaign isn’t something which the Catholic Worker Movement would normally be involved in. This is mainly due to the fact that our foundress, Dorothy Day, was well known for her solidarity with the poor.

Yet, Dorothy was also an avowed anarchist and anti-capitalist who held a deep hostility towards the impersonal, bureaucratic state, as well as maintaining an equally deep dislike of the free market and its unjust distribution of wealth and ruthless pursuit of profit.

Sure, we maintain a healthy distrust of governments which often seek to control and regulate all aspects of our lives. However, the social conditions of depression-era New York are not the social conditions of Scotland in 2017 and, as such, we Catholic Workers support this campaign for all sorts of reasons.

We believe that this small increase could perhaps be enough to stop some women and men tipping over the edge into the despair and hopelessness.

For example, if you’ve ever found yourself counting the hours until a child benefit payment comes through so you can put a tenner in the electricity meter, you’ll know that the last thing you want to hear is theoretical ideas about self sustaining communities and "getting back to the land".

More so, we Catholic Workers have a 'place of welcome' in the city centre as well as a regular soup kitchen where we carry out what we describe as the 'works of mercy'. 

Within these spaces we share food, fellowship and hospitality with some of the most marginalised and forgotten people in our society. Some of our homeless friends who come to the soup kitchen and our place of welcome are often joyful individuals who just need a little help and someone to talk to. 

Others are broken people who have simply given up and lost all hope, while more than a few of our friends have tragically descended into a spiral of addiction. Yet, the one thing which all our friends share in common is the fact that they are all human beings like you and I, unique human beings with dignity and a history and stories to tell.

They are people just like us who once possessed things like jobs, families and a home. It is for this reason that we Catholic Workers support the campaign for a £5 increase onto child benefit. 

We believe that this small increase could perhaps be enough to stop some women and men tipping over the edge into the despair and hopelessness which we encounter on the streets of Glasgow every Friday night.

An extra £5 per week may not seem like much but it might bring a little joy, hope and the glimpse of a better life into the lives of very many families all across Scotland.

An extra £5 per week may not seem like much but it might bring a little joy, hope and the glimpse of a better life into the lives of very many families all across Scotland. We believe that an £5 per week per child could make a huge difference to families. 

It could cover the cost of a good breakfast, fruit or the cost involved in taking part in a school trip or an after school (fun) activity. We are especially interested in the idea that this payment could even help to reduce the emotional stress on families and support children’s mental and physical wellbeing, and in doing so prevent young people from later falling through the cracks in the system and ending up on the streets.

If you want to help support this campaign then please sign the petition and write to your MSP. Details of the Give Me Five campaign can be found on Twitter. Together we might be able to build a Scotland where families are able to live rather than simply survive on foodbanks. 

Or in the words of Peter Maurin: "Ee can make the world a place where it is easier to be good."

Finally, Catholic Workers often like to recite the ancient canticle known as the Magnificat. The Magnificat is taken from Luke’s Gospel and is the Blessed Virgin Mary’s hymn of praise to the Lord -

"He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty."

Rather fittingly, our bishops have recently consecrated Scotland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary our mother, and so we ask Our Lady to pray for our families. That she may comfort and hold them close to her immaculate heart, wipe their tears, calm their fears and lead them to peace. Amen

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