Blog

Image: The migration and refugee crisis: a crisis common to us all?

22/06/2018

As we approach the end of 'Refugee Festival Week' in Scotland celebrating our multi cultural society our blog this week is a personal reflection on the global migration and refugee crisis by Luciana Lago from Brazil who volunteers with Justice and Peace Scotland.


In these times of unprecedented hostility towards our brothers and sisters who have been enduring dehumanizing obstacles to cross borders and prejudices of all kinds, we are reminded of the Christian summons to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, invite the stranger in, clothe those who need, look after the sick and visit the prisoner (Matthew 25:35-36). These ancient Christian principles should long have been materialized within our hearts as a beacon of light to our consciences throughout our Christian journey in life.
 
The present reality, however, seems to remind us, again and again, of how often we forget about those principles.  How often we forget about our Christian heritage in the face of so many inhumane sanctions against those who flee from wars that have been influenced, and at times even engendered, by the privileged western world. A world that, despite a history intertwined with the migration phenomenon, has been denying the opportunity to a dignified life to the thousands of migrants and refugees who, miraculously, reach its shores. How often, indeed, we forget about Christ himself and his plight for the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the Lazarus of all times and  places.
 
Indeed, the ‘sign of the times’ calls us to listen to their plight and act upon that listening.  It calls us to break the walls that divide and isolate the humane within us and around us. It urges us to open the gates that imprison our human hearts and minds and become a true balm to the wounds of our brother and sisters. The ‘sign of the times’ is whispering to you and me to allow our Christian heart to pour the oil of love over their feet. Its low whisper is reminding you and me to let the humane flourish within and around us. Let us listen to, trust and follow, the sign of the times, the blow of the wind in the here and now.
 
The migration and refugee crisis does concern us all because in its core lies a deep cry for our humanity, the humane within us. A cry to what being a Christian entails and the principles that should illuminate our attitudes towards the other.
 
Ultimately, a cry embedded in the very meaning of being human and the fears and hopes that we carry within. Their silent cry challenges us to reflect upon what is urged from that humanity within you and me. What is demanded from that catholicity that has been poured upon us. Is that humanity a living force that moves us to act with hope or under fear? A genuine encounter with the other can only stem from that ground of hope, the Christian hope that does not cease to persist in the midst of all trials. May hope prevail and move us to embrace the other as we embrace ourselves.
 
Picture: World Refuggee Day in Glasgow 2017 - Human chain in solidarity with all refugees worldwide. 


Image: Funeral Poverty: What does it cost to say good-bye?

15/06/2018

Our blog this week is on funeral poverty.  Jacky Close, Development Officer with Faith in Community Dundee tells us how she became involved with this issue and how the Fair Funeral Campaign is helping. 


She wept at the tragic loss of her son. And through her tears she shared her fears – ‘how will I pay for the funeral, I’ve only got £300 savings and nothing else, my Disability Benefits won’t cover the cost?’ The Funeral Director wouldn’t arrange the funeral without a deposit. In the end she had to borrow money, and was left hundreds of pounds in debt.


In the midst of personal loss people are facing the stress of paying for a meaningful and dignified funeral, and feel they have few places they can turn to. Funerals are important in our society, it’s how we say good-bye, it’s how we lay our loved one to rest, it’s where words are spoken and feelings are shared about life and what comes after. We have no other process that helps us grieve and share that grief with others. Sadly the costs associated with funerals keep rising; the number of people struggling to pay for a basic funeral is on the increase as is the number of people being forced into debt. But this is not a stand-alone issue, this is part of the bigger picture, of the increasing gap between rich and poor – people are living in poverty because there are unfair structures of pay and benefits in place that lead to such undignified situations as having to borrow to have a funeral carried out. This is unjust. This is unfair. We need to act.

Funeral Poverty has increased by 50% in just 3 years.


In July 2016 I was approached by a retired minster who suggested we bring together key people across Dundee to look at this issue together. The Funeral Poverty Action Group was formed with representatives from the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, The Episcopal Church, The United Free Church, Dundee Pensioners Forum, and individuals with business experience. We are a group of people who want to explore ways to bring about changes across the city, changes that will ease some of this stress and challenge some of the processes.

We are focussing on 3 areas:


• Push down the cost of funerals
• Encourage people to make preparations for future
• Educating people about quality of funeral v. costs.


How will we push down the cost of funerals? Working alongside other agencies – Dundee City Council, Discovery Credit Union, Dundee Social Enterprise Network and Dundee University - we secured funding to employ Margaret during 2017. For 6 months she looked at the feasibility of an alternative funeral service (social enterprise) where a dignified and meaningful funeral can be arranged but at lower costs. We’re now seeking ways to take forward the findings from this research; we hope to see real changes in Dundee this year.


Alongside the hard stories we also hear inspiring stories – of the local community who crowdfunded to pay for the funeral of a local woman known by many, of the faith community that provided a hall and a funeral tea for the family and friends of a young man who died suddenly and unexpectedly, of the quiet gifts of money given in times of need.


Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17 – 17) This is our calling, as God’s people, to care for each other and those who are fragile and forgotten.
If you want to find out more about Funeral Poverty, head along to the Fair Funeral Campaign - http://fairfuneralscampaign.org.uk/  The Fair Funerals campaign is run by anti-poverty charity Quaker Social Action, and through this we can join them to campaign the UK Government to increase the state funeral fund to a reasonable amount; contact local funeral directors and ask them to sign the Fair Funeral Pledge (pledging to help people find a funeral within their financial means and to be open about their costs); find good advice about organising a funeral. We have a voice, it’s time to speak up.



Image: Fuel Poverty

08/06/2018

This week in our blog Helen Melone of Energy Action Scotland describes what it means to live in fuel poverty and highlights the work being done to help the estimated 600,000 people in Scotland who are trapped in fuel poverty.


When we talk about fuel poverty, what does it mean? When I am asked this by friends or people I meet, I usually say – you know, when people can’t afford to heat their homes. I usually get a nod of understanding and then a story of their problems with their energy supplier, energy debt they’ve got into, high bills, not being able to keep warm, problems with switching; everybody has their own story to tell.


But “fuel poverty” is a bigger and wider issue than being unable to afford your energy bills. It’s about the condition of the walls, roof and windows (the fabric) of your house or flat, it’s about high energy prices, it’s about how much money you have and it’s about how you use energy in your home.


There are official statistics for fuel poverty in Scotland. In 2016, 649,000 (or 26.5%) households were in fuel poverty, but the real figure could be much higher. At the moment, the definition for being in fuel poverty is spending more than 10% of your income on all household fuel use. This definition will soon be changing. In fact there will be a lot of changes this year to the fuel poverty landscape in Scotland, with a Warm Homes Bill, a fuel poverty strategy and routemaps being produced. But what does this mean for the person on the street? What do they do, how will they be helped?


That person, if they are lucky, may be helped through some of the Scottish Government’s fuel poverty schemes, which help to install energy efficiency measures, such as insulation or boilers in people’s homes. However that person can be helped only if they are eligible, such as being on certain benefits or living in a certain area. Some of the help available is through loans, and the person would have to pay them off afterwards, which could increase household debt and stress.
If that person isn’t lucky enough to qualify for one of the schemes, what can they do? Maybe their situation gets so bad, that their health gets affected negatively and they seek help by going to see their doctor. Again, they may be lucky and get a doctor who is able to spend more time with them and be able to identify what is wrong and signpost them onto an agency who can help, or perhaps the doctor is too busy and it gets missed. Perhaps this person decides they have to do something and goes to a citizens advice bureau or local advice agency and is then directed to sources of advice and support.


But what about those too ill, too sick, too weary, not knowing, not understanding of what is out there, and available to them?


Yes, that’s the problem! There are people in Scotland termed “hard to reach” – those who work in this field talk about finding and identifying the fuel poor. It is difficult and there are still people out there in the population, hiding under the radar. There is also the stigma and shame of being seen to be on benefits and this applies too to the fuel poverty schemes. We often hear that the help available is not for me it’s for poor people or there is a catch it can’t be free, you get nothing for nothing these days.


There are organisations willing and able to help. EAS is one of these. We can help by challenging Governments, highlighting how policies affect vulnerable people, influencing those policies and the folks who make the decisions about them our MSPs and MPs. We train front line workers in identifying signs of fuel poverty in those they work with, carry out research to identify the solutions and set up projects to help people.


An example of a recently completed project was the Aiming Beyond Cancer (ABC) project. We supported, via two member organisations, people who were having difficulty keeping warm at home at a price they could afford due to cancer. Often for those with cancer, energy bills can go up as patients remain at home during treatment and recovery (often meaning that their income levels fall too), as well as the physiological effects of cancer requiring that they stay warmer. ABC provided a practical means of ensuring that at a particularly stressful time, energy bills and keeping warm were one less thing for cancer patients and their families to worry about.


See our website for further information www.eas.org.uk




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