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Good news and bad

This week brought us both good news and bad. Domestically, the good news was the biggest quarterly fall in unemployment for 17 years to 7.1%. The jobless total fell by 167,000 in the three months to November. 

Taken with the fall in inflation to 2.1% and a growth rate revised upwards by the IMF to 2.4%, we have clear evidence that the economy is recovering and growing faster than any developed economy except the USA. The structural deficit is falling and net borrowing is down £4.8 billion compared with last year. 

Nevertheless, Ed Miliband argues that 13 million are still living in poverty and a majority of them are in working households. Average earnings have fallen by £1,600 since 2010. The Government says this is because Labour caused the deepest recession in 100 years. The Prime Minister says tax cuts and falling inflation will make everyone’s money go further and wages will rise as the economy grows. However, he did concede there is still more to do and no room for complacency. 

This is because much of the recovery has been fuelled by credit-driven consumption, not by exporting to our major markets that are reviving more slowly. The current low interest rates encourage this consumption but those rates will not remain at 0.5% indefinitely. The Bank of England has indicated that once unemployment falls to 7% interest rates could rise. The recent fall in the inflation rate reduces the need to do this in the short term but some economists predict the rise could come towards the end of this year. 

The international news has focused on Syria this week. Peace talks opened in Geneva on Wednesday, with gloomy prospects. The talks won’t be helped by evidence of torture and the execution of 11,000 detainees by the regime. Nor will the exclusion of Iran, at the insistence of opposition groups. The Christian minority, that were 10% of the Syrian population, has been decimated. 1213 were murdered last year and many others have fled abroad. 

Even worse news comes from the Foreign Office, that globally 100 million Christians were persecuted in 2013. Persecution takes many forms. 612 Christians were murdered in Nigeria. Sri Lanka saw more than 50 attacks on churches. In such countries as Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the persecution comes from radical Islamists, in India from Hindu nationalists, and in Sri Lanka from Buddhists. The evidence for all this comes from Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi, who merits attention because she is a Muslim. She says Christians are the world’s largest persecuted minority. The Government has elevated religious discrimination against them and other minorities to a key priority in its human rights work. 

If ever there was a need for British Christians to pray for fellow believers, as well as for peace in Syria, it is now. The Christian community are sometimes called the Body of Christ. It is a very sick body that does not feel pain in one of its limbs.