Ed West Ed West

The church is better at the welfare business than the state

Today I have a piece in the Times (£ obviously, you know that) about the power of the Christian Left, following the Anglican bishops’ letter in the Daily Mirror; the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman goes into detail in the Telegraph about how her congregation did a better job of caring for the poor than the state did.

That is what’s at the heart of the argument for Christian conservatism. State spending is effective when there is acute, widespread poverty, but once a country rises above a certain income there are diminishing returns, because the causes are less likely to be wider social and environmental forces. This is a good, or at any rate conservative, argument for spending on overseas aid, where the money really can make a huge difference.

There is a very strong Christian socialist tradition in Britain, and a great many people for whom the faith directs their sense of social justice. These are the men and women involved in the countless charities and community groups across the country, and they are also the traditional backbone of the Labour Party. Then there is the liberal Christian tradition, which is especially found in the hierarchy of all churches, and epitomised by Thought for the Day (I have now trained myself to jump up from the seat and switch off the radio within 1.5 seconds of hearing the phrase ‘and now for Thought for the Day’).

But while there is this social gospel tradition, it’s strange that the Church – which is really very good at welfare and the caring business – would like to see more of it carried out by the state, which does it rather less well, and is also a rival.

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