‘On Rock or Sand?’, as edited by Archbishop John Sentamu, was published by SPCK in January 2015. ISBN: 978 0 281 07174 6
The book continues to generate much debate as we approach the general election in May 2015. However, it was never simply intended to help people make more informed decisions in the voting booth, but also to stimulate thought and action on issues that will remain with us long after the election has passed. The following study guide is therefore offered as a free resource for discussion groups and individuals who would like to develop a more thoughtful approach to, and engagement with, the issues addressed by the book.
This study guide provides key quotations and chapter-by-chapter summaries of the book’s main arguments, plus relevant passages from the Bible and a range of questions to encourage further thought and action.
‘On Rock or Sand? Firm foundations for Britain’s future’ is edited by John Sentamu and published by SPCK in January 2015
The aim of this book is nothing less than to assess and reset the terms of the debate about the kind of nation we want to be.
Faced with a period of change as great as that of the 1930s, the continued cohesion of our society is at risk as expectations of ever-rising prosperity are challenged and many struggle to make ends meet. It is within this context that the contributors to this book examine some fundamental questions. How can we draw upon the wellsprings of social solidarity today? What would a new social contract – a new understanding about the respective rights and obligations of the individual citizen and the state – look like today? At a time when budgets and other resources are being reduced, what are the principles we should adopt to distribute them?
In short, what values can the Christian faith bring to the table to help address the problems we face today? These and other core questions about the kind of society we seek lie at the heart of this book.
Chapters by expert economic, political, religious and social thinkers, including contributions by Lord Adonis, Sir Philip Mawer, Oliver O’Donovan, Andrew Sentance, Julia Unwin and Archbishop Justin Welby
Addresses crucial questions about the moral principles that undergird the way Britain is governed
Written for people of any or no religious background who are concerned about the values that influence our political attitudes and decisions
A major contribution to public debate as we approach the 2015 election
ISBN: 978 0 281 07174 6
Writing an open letter to the Prime Minister and his fellow Taxpayers in England, the Archbishop has asked the Government to consider a new social covenant to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The Archbishop of York’s open letter follows…
Dear Prime Minister and fellow taxpayers in England,
At a recent Symposium held here at Bishopthorpe Palace, those who attended agreed that I write an open letter to you and to all my fellow taxpayers.
A time of economic crisis is a moment, not for social and economic retreat, but to build for the future. Her Majesty’s Government has rightly recognised the importance of building the economy in its recently announced National Infrastructure Programme. But we also need to strengthen the bonds that bind our community together, especially at a time when these are under particular strain.
A new social covenant is needed which – on the basis of an honest assessment of the respective roles of the State, voluntary associations and individual citizens – assures the weak and vulnerable of proper protection and gives all of us confidence that we are committed to building the conditions necessary to assist human flourishing.
Two groups – at either end of the age spectrum – deserve our particular attention. These are the young – whose nurturing, education and opportunities for employment are a particular concern, as on our success in securing these depends the quality of our community tomorrow –and older people, who form an increasing proportion of our population. In this letter to you, I want to focus on how we care about and for older people.
A society’s capacity to innovate is not independent of its capacity to understand and respect its own recent past. Older people are important connecting links to a world that still shapes our opportunities but which we can quickly fail to comprehend. The value we are seen to place on their wisdom and the concern we show for their care are important litmus tests of whether we can build a caring as well as a confident society in the 21st century.
In particular, the current adult care funding system in England is widely acknowledged to be unfit for purpose and to need urgent and lasting reform. The report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support, chaired by Andrew Dilnot (the Dilnot Commission), published earlier this year, has shown us the way forward. Whether or not the political parties can come together to implement the Commission’s recommendations will be an important signal of our confidence and ability to build for the future of our society as well as of our economy, at this time of particular social as well as economic difficulty.
Valuing Older People
Each one of us – at every age in our life – is uniquely and equally precious in the sight of God. But what we each contribute to the richly hued tapestry of humanity will differ at different points of our life.
Medical advances mean that many older people today are able to remain active for longer. What those who are still active need is constructive occupation – not necessarily paid employment (which may come at the expense of the young) – through which they can both contribute from the wisdom of their experience and sustain a sense of being useful to others, and therefore of purpose.
What is most important in the actual experience of growing older is the slow change from an age of action to an age of reflection. While there is no evidence that other cultures care for older people more than we do, African and many non-Western societies more visibly care about older people. They value the wisdom of old age. That valuing is reflected in the Book of Proverbs: “The glory of young men is their strength, the splendour of old men is their grey hair” (Proverbs 20:29).
A failing of today’s society is to set the old over and against the young, in a state of mutual incomprehension. In fact, the old need the young and the young, the old. An integration of the generations is critical to a mutually supportive society.
A truly caring and Christian society is therefore one that sees older people, not as a growing and irrelevant burden, but as a rich treasure store of energy, experience and wisdom to be placed at the service of the young and of its future. Ensuring the conditions under which older people can make the special contribution of which they are capable is key to releasing this treasure. Providing a sustainable long term funding arrangement for the care of older people is a vital part of ensuring those conditions.
Why Reforming the Funding of the Care of Older People is Essential
Some key facts from the Dilnot Report, which will I know already be familiar to you:
a) In 1901 there were 61,000 people in the UK over the age of 85. Now there are almost one and a half million.
b) By 2030, the proportion of the UK population over 65 will exceed 20%.
c) Public expenditure in England on older people’s social care is not keeping up with demand.
d) Care costs for any one individual are uncertain and can, in some circumstances, be very high indeed.
e) The current system of funding individual care in England, which requires people with more than a very modest level of capital assets to use those assets to cover the cost of their care, leaves many in fear and uncertainty as they approach one of the most vulnerable periods of their life.
What is needed is a system for funding care which enables the risk to any one individual to be pooled, through taxation or insurance or, preferably, a mix of them both.
The Dilnot Commission has shown the way forward. It proposes a system under which the individual will be responsible, on a means-tested basis, for the costs of his or her care up to a suggested level of £35,000, after which the State would pick up the cost. The current asset threshold for those in residential care would also be extended, from £23,250 to £100,000.
Such a system will provide sufficient certainty to enable people to plan ahead, and allow the financial services industry to develop insurance and other products to help them with their planning. It will also help the poorest in our society the most.
The Commission estimates the cost to the public purse of its proposals at less than £2 billion. This is a large sum and I fully realise that, especially at a time of severe economic constraint, finding it will not be easy. But it compares with total annual Government expenditure of just under £700 billion. Moreover, if this investment in establishing a fairer system is not made, the cost of caring for older people falling on the NHS and other parts of the national budget is likely to go on increasing.
The Commission also recommends other sensible reforms, including a major information and advice campaign to help people plan ahead; better information and needs assessment for carers; and better integration of health and social care. These will be essential too if we are to strike the right balance between individual responsibility and publicly funded provision.
A Call to Action
We stand at a moment of serious social as well as economic crisis. At such a time, leadership of a particularly high order is called for. You, Prime Minister, and Her Majesty’s Government have shown your wish to provide such leadership, a leadership which is seen to address positively and constructively, in the wider interest, the fundamental issues facing our society. Reforming the system of funding the care of older people is one such issue. Dilnot has shown us the way forward. It is a call to action which our country cannot, must not ignore.
My fellow taxpayers, let us all back this clarion call to act now.
In April 2010, in the wake of the Financial Crisis, I invited a group of academics and practitioners to come together to take stock, not only of the policies by which our society and our economy should be governed, but also of the underlying values and principles of which that society and economy are an expression. We named the group “The Archbishop of York’s Symposium”.
Participants have included economists, financiers, social scientists and theologians who have been engaged in an open discussion on what we feel are the important public policy issues of the day.
At our most recent meeting, just a few days ago in the Summer of 2011, the members of the Symposium met to examine the issue of health and healthcare reform in the UK.
It was an issue that had been on my heart for some time, but even in the week where we sat to discuss the matter, the newspapers were dominated with stories about possible cuts to health provision and rationalisation of services under a modernisation programme.
It is hard to put into words the way that British people feel about the National Health Service (NHS). There is a sense of national pride not only in the hard work and professionalism of the doctors and nurses (and other staff), but also in the institution itself.
When Aneurin Bevan launched the NHS on 5th July 1948, he probably had little idea that 63 years on the foundations he had put in place would be so interwoven into the fabric of our national identity.
The NHS was born out of a long-held belief that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth.
It was motivated by three core principles:
• That it meet the needs of everyone
• That it be free at the point of delivery
• That it be based on clinical need, not the ability to pay.
I have to say that I am extremely grateful that these principles remain in place to this day.
On 25th May this year, I had been in London listening to President Barak Obama address the Joint Houses of Parliament and had then attended a Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of the great judge, Lord Bingham of Cornhill. There had been no indication that anything at all was wrong with my health. But later that night I was engulfed by illness and I had to be urgently admitted to hospital.
So what did I do? Did I have to check my medical insurance details, or check that there was enough money in my current account to cover my medical treatment?
No. Because of the system we have in England, I was able to go into the local NHS hospital – St Thomas’ in Westminster – and immediately receive the care that was required to help make me better. The doctors and nurses were brilliant.
It is a principle that enables all UK residents to have peace of mind whether they are in their home city, or on the other side of the country. The NHS will always do its best to care for you, regardless of your personal income or place of residence.
Of course, having a service which is “free at the point of delivery” is not the same as having a service which is “free”. The fact is that we all help pay for the running of the NHS through general taxation.
Whilst it is rarely popular for a public figure to sing the praises of the principles of taxation policy, I am always happy to say that if you want better public services then you have to be prepared to put in the investment to ensure that they are properly funded.
It seems only right to me that those that earn more should therefore contribute more to help nurture the common good. It is not about generosity of the pocket, nor about generosity of spirit, it is about fairness or equity.
However, taxes are only part of the solution – there is a strong argument for making better use of the money already in the system. There is nothing wrong with ensuring investment is targeted but at the same time holistic.
For many years, it seems that our society has perpetuated the myth that the private sector is always more professional and more proficient than the public sector. This has never been my experience of public services, and I think this does a great disservice to the many people who devote their lives to working in the public sector to support others.
We should remember that “private” doesn’t always mean “better”. Look at the mess private Banks and their gambling casinos got us into!
We must never allow health provision in this country to become exclusive. Decent health care should not solely be the preserve of those that can afford to purchase it. I am certainly not persuaded by internal competitive markets when one is treating very ill patients.
Let us as a nation protect the principles of Bevan that allow each man, woman and child access to health care whenever they need it.
Good health isn’t simply a case of what is, or is not, provided by the NHS. A recent survey outlined the determinants of health as follows:
40% is due to behaviour
30% is due to genetic inheritance
15% is due to social environment
5% is due to physical environment
This leaves only 10% to healthcare.
Whilst the NHS has focused on addressing inequalities in recent years, devising formulae to spread finance for healthcare more fairly around the country, we can see that deep-rooted societal inequalities still remain.
For example, Manchester health authority gets three times as much investment per person than the health authority in Surrey – however life expectancy in Surrey is still 7 years longer than in Manchester.
It’s not just a North-South divide. The London Health Observatory recently found when looking at life expectancies that in our capital, you would lose a year of life expectancy for every tube stop on the Jubilee Line journey across London from west to east depending on where you lived.
The sad fact is that in our growing consumerist society, and the beguiling mantra: consumer choice, people want more and more, whilst being prepared to pay less and less. Often vast sums are spent on very ineffective treatment, and, although it may not be popular, we need to listen to the doctors and not just the patients. Doctors took up the vocation to treat patients and not to be managers of budgets or fund-holders. Let us not do to doctors what we have done to teachers: made them managers of budgets with targets to meet.
You can’t have a system where those who shout loudest get most. This is especially seen in areas such as GP provision, or when people say it is “against their human rights” not to have an operation on the NHS.
We need to be careful to not create a greater black hole in public finance out of a misplaced sense of duty. We cannot simply solve all health issues by throwing money at the healthcare system. We must look at the wider societal indicators and tackle problems at their root cause.
As our population becomes increasingly ageing, we need to look at how healthcare provision is funded to ensure it is sustainable.
At the moment, I know that I will be looked after in my old age because there are many hard working young people who are currently paying into the pot. But we need to know that when our young people reach old age that there will be someone to look after them too. We need to instil a renewed sense of solidarity.
Whilst life expectancy is steadily rising, disability-free life is dropping for the average person. Let us strive for an improved quality of life for all, not just an improved quantity of life for all. Let us learn to trust each other and invest for a better future that everyone can be part of, no matter where they are born or what their average income is.
We seem to have lost sight of the essential dignity of the human being. Patient–centred care now translates as individuals who have things “done” to them by others. Can this be right?
We need compassion. Consideration of compassion is illuminating. In a social context, we have lost compassion and human dignity, especially where people are at the end of their life or disabled.
We need to make sure we do not create a health system which is inhuman and unresponsive to individual need.
The problem with targets are that they are not based on need, they are based on numbers. I spent 15 days in St Thomas’s Hospital. What was the target for treating someone with a very acute condition which came on suddenly? What was the permissible budget?
It is not just the patients who suffer because of this behaviour. We should not underestimate the impact of bureaucracy on the morale of those working in the health system.
For example, the surgeon who operated on me recently had worked for three days straight and had major operations all day from 10am before he operated on me at 12.30am! I am told this is not an uncommon occurrence. How do we even begin to say thank you?
How do we build up springs of solidarity so that people feel appreciated and valued? How do we help people to feel that it is a vocation to treat others? How do we get a sense of moral compassion in such a big organisation?
The parable of the Samaritan shows compassion expressed appropriately with dignity, and we need to apply this to the Health Service as it provides for a community of the sick.
We forget though that in this parable, although Jesus is talking about those who give help, He is also talking about those who receive. We need to see our own roles in the same way – if we were the injured man, we would want someone to help – so how do we help build a responsive society?
When the credit crunch happened, we learnt a lot. Mammon’s temple showed that money is a means for exchanging goods – and not the determining factor. We also learnt that we cannot keep borrowing to keep up. Mammon was given a severe pasting but I am afraid he is slowly rebuilding his merciless temple.
We are in a fragile economic position as a country, and whilst the 5 social demons of Beveridge are still here, we should remember that the importance of self worth is also still present.
I grew up as one of thirteen children, but my parents were very good at reading to us and telling us stories. We all felt incredibly valued and loved. In fact it was utter happiness. I believe that we need to have the same attitude towards the children of this nation.
We need wholesome environments – not just money in the pocket to make us happy. As a society we are hesitant about the importance of neighbourliness and valuing others. Raising children is more important than material wealth.
Whilst we may strive to deliver value for money, we cannot allow care to be market-led or commercialised to the point where patients’ safety is put at risk. You cannot compare an NHS hospital to a supermarket.
When my appendix was removed, the doctors felt it necessary to keep me in hospital for two weeks – whilst it may have been cheaper for me to have been treated on a production line in a factory, care and compassion for the patient must be paramount.
We need to recognise that there are no easy answers when we look at the demands on the NHS. All health-care systems have their limitations but in the NHS we have a wonderful institution with fantastic staff who are doing their best to serve and treat us, often in impossible circumstances.
If we accept that healthcare can only touch some of the factors contributing to the overall health of a person, we need to challenge policy-makers over those aspects of funding and social policy that affect those who are suffering or living under the burden of societal injustice. We need a generation of equity.
We need to re-articulate what is needed in our country in this new modern context, and debate how we can work together to best deliver it.
Over the next few days, some of the contributors to my Symposium will make public their own findings about our health system. I found what they had to say both informative and challenging. As our political leaders embark on reforming the NHS via the Health and Social Care Bill, I hope that these observations will help re-ignite a national debate so that we can ensure our institutions deliver what is best for not only the individual, but also for society and the wider country.
Let us re-examine the relationship between the individual, society and the State – and not be afraid to question our own expectations of health care provision.
In the 1940s, the Beveridge Report set out the Christian ethic. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, wrote that the dignity of every human being had by law been put into a statute. If this Symposium can manage to help to achieve this aspiration for a new generation, we will have achieved our objective.
It is not wrong to want to re-open the public discourse around the provision of public services. We all want to see a system that is compassionate and responsive. We all want to see investment spent appropriately in order to provide the best care possible to as many people as possible. The challenge is how do we achieve that?
Let us aim high as we set out upon this journey – and let us aim together.
If we refer to it as a slogan, that need not be in a pejorative sense. It means simply that “the right to health” does useful duty as a shorthand reference. A cluster of concerns are summed up compactly; it gestures out towards a whole line of argument remaining to be traced. If we discuss “the right to health” as a slogan, we do not discuss anything we are actually doing or proposing to do. We do not discuss redistributing resources or maximising choice. We discuss how we think and speak about what we are doing and proposing to do – though since the “how” has an effect upon the “what”, our discussion may be of practical importance, not merely a philosophical indulgence. A slogan is a tool of communication, and the question we may put to it is what and how it communicates. A slogan, too, is intended to communicate with some immediacy, catching the attention of those who might not be attending. It therefore tends to be artful, and with the art goes an element of simulation and dissimulation, one thing highlighted, another left in the background. A feature of the slogan’s art is a shocking impudence. A small explosion of nonsense at our elbow startles us into attention and makes us lift our heads to scan the horizon.
The slogan, “the right to health”, is, indeed, astonishingly cheeky. It is obvious to anyone who is half awake that no one has a right to health. Not, at any rate, in the sense that one may have a right to those things we are commonly said to have rights to, as in the canonical phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Rights are aspects of social relations, and since social relations are what we make of them, rights are essentially negative, a floor rather than a ceiling for our social aspirations. We are not to be killed, not to be imprisoned, not to be interfered with (especially by robbery) in making our livelihoods; given those protections we are free to marry or not to marry, to study at University or not to study, to trade on the stock market or to put our money in a mattress, to travel or to stay at home. Health, on the other hand, is not an aspect of social relations; it is a function of a person’s bodily constitution prior to any social interaction. True, some health-problems are caused by other people’s wrongful behaviour, those created by knife-wounds, for example. I can have a right not to be caused such problems. But in no sense can I have a right not to be born with leukemia. I may, perhaps, assert a right to such treatment for leukemia as is generally available, but I can assert no right to vanquish the illness for good and all, since nobody could satisfy such a right.
Attempts to analyse slogans can seem humourless, taking too literally something thrown off with a laugh and a swagger. But that laugh and swagger, especially when repeated on all sides, may not be innocent. Something is being suggested, something vast and important enough to require paradoxical communication. What? That any illness is susceptible of alleviation by the right treatment? That leukemia could become a curable illness, and deserves more research-funding? That all illnesses are in principle curable? Here it all becomes vague. The vagueness is possibly an advantage to those who use a slogan to campaign with, since it allows them a great deal of flexibility with their practical agenda. But for those of us who are carried along by it it means that it has a life of its own, and we may never be clear as to quite what is being suggested. That is one reason why from time to time all slogans need to be examined.
I regard this slogan as a lying slogan, not because of its paradoxical form (for slogans may surely be granted their art), but because the hidden suggestion it makes is false. Indeed, I think it a doubly lying slogan, with two bold and impenitent falsehoods contained in it, one about “the right”, the other about “health”. Let me comment briefly on each of these.
“The right” to health is one of the many current coinages that extend the notion of proprietory right beyond its paradigm negative instances, those that affirm the legal defence of the individual subject against wrongful attack or interference, to the point of asserting an immediate claim of the individual to positive social goods. The proliferation of such expressions gives voice to an idea of what society is supposed to be, and can even be taken to legitimate efforts to change society from what it necessarily is to conform to an abstract ideal of what it might be. The idea is that the social system proves its reality exclusively by meeting the demands individuals make upon it. Our membership of society is primarily a power to assert demands on the whole of which we are part. We do not have to work, we do not have to make sacrifices, to be worthy of benefits of membership. We have only to utter our demands. It is the view of society that might naturally be assumed by a child.
“Health” is then understood as a good to be demanded of, and deliverable by, a social system. It must be possible for my “right to health” to be met by society – for how otherwise could it be a right? – but it can be met only by prescriptions, drips and hospital beds. These, then, must be what I demand when I demand health, not energy and mobility, breath in the lungs and a lively appetite. An inflation of the idea of “right” is thus accompanied by a deflation of the idea of health, until the two dovetail nicely together in a possible techno-bureaucratic programme of provision. It is the view of health naturally assumed by a chronic invalid, so that we might conclude that the slogan taken as a whole offers what might be looked for by an invalid child.
Health is thus re-imagined: it is no longer “being well”, but “doing well” (by which, paradoxically, we mean doing nothing much at all!) With the occlusion of a transcendent meaning to our lives, all kinds of natural goods become occluded, too. To “be well” is to be mobile, energetic, active. To “do well” is simply to consume my fair share, or more than my fair share, of available medical aids and supports. The reduced concept of health stands in an interesting relation to the famously expansive definition of health propounded by the World Health Organisation: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Both the inflated and the deflated conceptions of health ignore the relation of health to the spiritual goods, freedom, wisdom, virtue etc., for which each of us alone can be responsible in our own case and no one shares the responsibility with us. Health is not a spiritual good, but it is a platform from which we launch out upon them, to live our own lives and pursue our own tasks.
Among the spiritual goods must be mentioned the freedom, wisdom and virtue to confronts death. But death has no place in the reduced idea of health. Some of the evidence presented for inequality of health-care has taken the form of divergent local statistics for the average age of death. Maps are drawn, we are told, demonstrating the years of life-expectancy lost or gained by a simple journey on the London Underground. There are at least two reasons for viewing such evidence with suspicion. One is that in a mobile society the age of death in a place is related only indirectly to the life-expectancy of those who live in that place. People do not die where they are born and live. And since those moving into a locality can carry the local average up or down by bringing a low or high life-expectancy with them, the age of death in a place is even less directly related to the quality of health-care practised there. That first suspicion, then, is directed to the meaning of local statistics, and would not be effective against an argument based on changing national statistics. A second and more fundamental ground of suspicion touches the use of life-expectancy itself as a measure of health-care: its value diminishes as life-expectancy approximates the “right time to die”. A general increase of average life-expectancy from 48 to 52 might suggest some success in dealing with major health-problems, but what would an increase from 88 to 92 suggest? From the point of view of real health, the health that we “enjoy”, it might be inconsequential.
It is a mistake, then, to talk about health without remembering that there is, though loosely-defined – even the Psalmist was only prepared to state it within a margin of ten years – a right time to die. We always do fail to remember it, of course, and that is because of an inherent paradox in our existential relation to our death. At any given moment each one of us is convinced that now is not the right time to die; yet the suggestion that our lives might be prolonged indefinitely appals us, and for excellent reasons. Living humanly for very much longer than humans normally live is something we have no conception of. It would be terrible to be forty in a world where most people lived to a hundred and eighty, and equally terrible to be a hundred and fifty! Our whole experience of time and action is geared to an expectation of maturing, aging and dying within a certain span. If the whole cycle were to be strung out, and instead of simply being old for much longer we could be young for longer and mature for longer, too, then we would probably simply slow down and take twice as long over everything. What we would not do is what in our greediness for life we always imagine we would do: experience more and accomplish more. In the current climate only the advocates of euthanasia (to whose simplistic and despairing solutions we have every reason not to entrust ourselves) are prepared to speak in public about a right time to die. It is important that we should all learn to do so, and in our health-care planning should have this horizon before us, so that we attend more urgently to ailments that typically blight the life of the young than to those which terminate the life of the old.
So much for what “the right to health” suggests. Who needs this slogan? Who communicates through it with whom?
We live in an age in which the traditional political conceptions of the relation of the state to the individual have seemed to become increasingly meaningless in the face of the huge extension of technological control over life and death. We have, by default, come to conceive of society as a relation between providers and consumers, the ruler-ruled principle which understood government as a task of justice having now become flattened out into a seller-buyer principle that it understands it as a market. In speaking of a right to health, providers communicate with one another, calling on one another to rise to the demands of their role. For those who bear responsibility for health provision have increasingly become deprived of their traditional motivators. Compassion, which drove the Samaritan to care for the wounded traveller, may still operate in the emergency wards, where individual professionals confront the needs of individual patients directly. But with the vast number of those who manage health-care from a computer screen, and deal with patient-records rather than patients, nothing can be stirred up by strumming on that harp. Equally, the sense of the high responsibility of privilege which once accompanied the exercise of powers of government has been drained away by the routinisation of the bureaucratic system.
And so we hunt around for some way of expressing a residual moral perception in the desert of lost meaning that there remain urgent responsibilities that impose themselves upon us inescapably. The desperate language of a generalised “right” is the only language apparently left to us to do this work. I am moved to do something for people not because I care for them, not because it is entrusted to a privileged role I occupy, not because I love God and see his image in their faces, but because they have a right. The force of the “the right to health” is thus the force of an irreducible moral compulsion that we have forgotten how to articulate intelligibly as a rational motive. And in this it bears all the marks of the Mosaic law as St Paul described it in 2 Corinthians 3: it has an oppressive weight, it is shrouded in impenetrable mystery, and in the end its power over us will prove to be fading and transitory.
In April 2010, in the wake of the Financial Crisis and with the prospect of a General Election, the Archbishop of York invited a group of academics and practitioners to come together to take stock, not only of the policies by which our society and our economy should be governed, but also of the underlying values and principles of which that society and economy are an expression.
The group comprises economists, financiers, social scientists and theologians who are engaged in an open discussion on these issues. In the wake of what has happened in our economy and society in recent years, contributors share a commitment to finding a dynamic and accessible language through which to pursue the Christian understanding of ‘the common good’ in a way that will deliver actionable ideas, integrating theological insights with public policy.
Six months later, participants gathered again to look at the impact of a new Government and its recent Comprehensive Spending Review, and to consider how the values of global justice, mutual responsibility, and hope for the future could to be nurtured in the present context. With the prospect of the cuts to public services arising from the Government’s deficit reduction measures, we were particularly concerned to pay heed to the impact these would have upon those most vulnerable in our society.
As we concluded our latest gathering, we agreed that it might prove useful to publish the papers presented to the Symposium as a contribution to the ongoing national debate. They are offered as the views of their authors, not of the group as a whole. Taken together, however, they are evidence of the firm belief of the Archbishop of York and of all who participated in the Symposium in the need to re-articulate in today’s circumstances how the moral order should be reflected in the compact underpinning our society, and in the important contribution which Christian thinkers and practitioners can make to that pressing task.
Sir Philip Mawer – Chair of the Archbishop of York’s Symposium