Even though Fitch, the Ratings Agency, has downgraded the UK’s credit worthiness from AAA to AA+, the Chancellor will take some comfort from the latest economic statistics. 0.3% economic growth in the last quarter meant we missed a triple dip recession by a whisker.
£120.6 billion of government borrowing in the last quarter was also down by £300 million. Nevertheless, the national debt is still £1.387 trillion so he has no grounds for complacency. Welcome though these statistics are, there are others that are deeply disturbing.
Prices are rising, most people’s wages are not and there is genuine poverty in some parts. Average disposable household income in West London is £32,823 but in Nottingham it is £10,834 and in Hull £11,287. These regional variations are also reflected in unemployment figures. 7.9% (2.56 million) of the UK workforce are unemployed but in the Ladywood area of Birmingham 11.9% are not working and in the North East 11.2% are unemployed.
Homelessness statistics, up 18%, tell another bleak story. 48,920 households are in temporary accommodation and 73% of them are families or pregnant women. Shelter reports that 70,000 children are involved and a third of them have no school to go to either. Barnardo’s say that these children are ten times more likely than their peers to die in fires. Can anything be done about these shocking facts?
The UK has 23.4 million homes and needs at least another 2 million. House building has dwindled to fewer than 100,000 a year - a third of what is needed. Apart from those in temporary accommodation, a growing number of 20-34 year olds are still living with their parents. George Clark, who presents the Channel 4 programme The Restoration Man, points to the 300,000 long term empty houses, many of which are in disrepair and below modern standards. If they were modernised they would ease the housing problem but not solve it.
It has been claimed that property developers are sitting on land with planning permission approved but are waiting for house prices to rise before starting to build. Significant real term price rises are not expected for two or three years. The government has made £1billion available for a 'New Homes' initiative and a further £2m for local authorities to encourage new house building. They are also offering help to first time buyers to find a deposit. The ONS says the average house in England costs £240,000. Even with government help a 10% deposit is beyond many people if they are employed on the minimum wage.
There is certainly no room for complacency. Sound bites and slogans will not solve these problems. Government policies are important but deeper cultural changes are needed. Building for the wealthy who can afford million pound mansions may be profitable for the developer but does nothing for the homeless family. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbours and the Good Samaritan parable means this includes those who cannot afford to be our neighbours? James 2:1-16 is relevant to this situation and says faith not accompanied by action is dead. What can we do?