We're writing this in a week when inequality is very much in the news. Headlines shout out that Britain is fast becoming a two tier society – the haves and the have-nots more sharply divided than ever. Politicians offer possible policies on what they would like to do – some more sensible than others, like getting everyone onto a living wage, although nobody seems quite clear as to how that will be done. All agree that less equal societies, as the authors of The Spirit Level have clearly shown, are also less healthy and less happy societies – and Britain is very far down the scale. But the fact remains that the gap is widening all the time, and with a General Election coming up in just over seven months time, the least we can do is seek as many ways as possible to bring pressure to bear on the political parties to offer serious proposals in their manifestos which address this shocking situation.
But this is too deep and too widespread an issue just to be left to the politicians.
The energy created by the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign owed its generation, in large part, to the conviction that all of us – not just the powers that be – should, and can, do something to make change happen in our society, based on the values of justice, struggle and indeed sacrifice. In recent weeks in Scotland, it's been exciting to see how many groups and individuals have refused simply to disappear after the vote, but have instead increased their efforts to keep working at how we can, among other things, really reduce the inequality that we are experiencing. Commonweal, Bella Caledonia, Radical Independence, and others seem to us to offer at least an opportunity to make real the conviction expressed by Jim Wallis, the American Christian activist, that “hope is believing in spite of the evidence – and watching the evidence change”.
We also believe, though, that perhaps more than hope is needed. The growing inequality in Britain today, we would argue, demands anger as well, if we are really going to do something about it. The rise in the number of children living in relative poverty in Scotland, highlighted this week, from 150,000 last year to 180,000 this year, is not just a shocking statistic – it is 180,000 individual girls and boys, together with their families, who are simply not sharing in the same opportunities for health, education, holidays, travel, or work which the majority of the rest of us can expect to have. This is a surely a cause not so much for pity, or shame, or even despair, as for real, deep down anger. It was the fourth century African Christian theologian and philosopher, St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote, way back then, that “hope has two beautiful daughters – their names are anger and courage – anger at the way things are, and courage to make sure that they do not remain the way they are.” If we are to build a more just society in Britain, then hope, linked to anger and courage, motivating not just politicians but all of us together, may be the only force that will make it happen.