It’s no secret that the UK faces an increasingly frightening economic picture. Inflation rates are at their highest rate since the early 1980s. Food banks have been driven to ‘breaking point’, with almost 1.3 million emergency parcels distributed in the second half of 2022 by the Trussell Trust alone. Spiralling energy costs saw the opening of the first ‘warm banks’ - a place for people to turn to stay warm during the winter months. 417,000 working days were lost to strikes over pay conditions in October, the highest on record for more than 10 years, with little sign of a compromise or deal to come in the coming weeks.
Yet these figures cannot simply be numbers. Questioning the then Prime Minister Liz Truss on her inaction to address the cost of living crisis, Sir Keir Starmer provided somewhat of a call to action, saying that “No Government can stand by while millions of families fall into poverty, while businesses shut their doors and while the economy falls to ruin”. The cost of living crisis is undoubtedly one of, if not the most, important issue being talked about today.
Despite such a stark reality, Christians have been, and continue to be, criticised for their own inaction on economic policy.
The Lord, in His kindness, has given us the freedom to choose our own political affiliations and beliefs. There is no political party that those of the faith must subscribe to, meaning that people will form their own interests and passions within politics. However, as Christian organisations have gone about this, their specialisms have become over-reliant on social policy, often without recognising how the economic and the social overlap.
This is not to say that social policy is irrelevant, far from it! Our social fabric is also showing signs of fragility and has done so for some time. From falling marriage rates, to the record number of abortions taking place, to unrivalled numbers of children and young people being medically treated for mental health problems. These are issues we should care about and are called to address in our compassion for the nation. The very roots of a successful economy lie in the households and communities where people feel known, looked after and feel a sense of positive obligation. Though public services are undoubtedly important, they cannot provide the social connections that we long for from friends, families, and neighbourhoods.
Nonetheless, both economic and social policy have important roles to play.
To address social policy in isolation from economics is to risk losing sight of the individual and their true needs. From mothers feeling as though they cannot afford to give birth to a child, to financial struggles leading to marital breakdown, to people choosing to end their own lives due to monetary anxiety, we cannot deny that economic factors play a vital role in much of the societal strife we seek to solve in our social policy.
In his letters to the Philippian Church, Paul calls believers to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Everyone’s “interests”, or “needs” in other translations, will be very different. From material goods to craving social connection. As we seek to apply this to our politics, we should not allow the Christian values that are called for in this verse, particularly service, sacrificial love, and compassion, to become party political. Whilst those on the political left or right might disagree over the right course of action, we ought to love and serve others above ourselves in our obedience to the Lord.
Moreover, in describing his own ministry to the Thessalonian Church, Paul says that himself, Silvanus, and Timothy were “ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). These godly men set an example to the Church by not merely talking about what is true and good, despite knowing that this and this alone is the message that would save their soul. Rather, they also shared their whole lives with them. In their obedience to God’s command to the disciples under the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), they lived a life of practical, visual, and vulnerable compassion.
In our addressing of the country’s social ills, we must recognise that our immediate, economic troubles cannot be ignored. Living under God’s commission should lead us to have compassion on the lives of all people. The cost of living crisis has shone a light on poor economic policy that has led to millions living in desperation and struggle, and many falling into debt as they attempt to support their families. Christians can, and should, care for more traditionally “Christian” policy issues that focus on our social fabric. However, we cannot walk by on the other side whilst significant material issues stare us in the face. Social and economic policy must be held in tandem.