So, there I was musing on my thoughts of a day very much focussed on children and young people when I learned that today is Blog Action Day with a specific focus on inequality. My working hours took me from a primary (elementary) school assembly, via a meeting with a couple and their 6-month-old baby preparing for his baptism, to a diocesan project meeting focussing on the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme (CEMES) project due to start in our corner of the diocese in September 2015. This project offers young adults experience of parish ministry in the Church of England: 20 hours a week (paid in this diocese) for 40 weeks of the year. After all the meetings, I then found myself reading the latest figures issued by the UK’s Child Poverty Action Group showing that the area where I live and minister is in 10th place across the UK for the highest percentage of children living in poverty (42%). 42% – talk about inequality on our doorstep! That means almost half of the children I see living in the streets across our two parishes are living with the everyday reality of poverty in all the different ways it can affect quality of life and overall life chances.
As many churches do, we offer groups and activities for all ages, with regular toddler groups for the youngest, Messy Church and other activities particularly, but not exclusively, aimed at those of primary school age, and a youth group for local teenagers. As a governor of the local Church of England primary school I’m aware that more than one in five of the children qualify for free school meals – a longstanding indicator (but perhaps not for much longer) of child poverty across the country. With the October half term school holiday now just over a week away, they will be the children who are likely to go hungry until school restarts. I can’t help wondering if we could be doing as other churches do, and offering a breakfast or lunchtime club with a meal during the school holidays for those children who miss out on the food they need at home.
Yes, as a vicar in two urban parishes scoring high on most indices of deprivation, I see far too much inequality all around me. It’s true enough to say that ‘Life’s not Fair’, but I don’t want to give in to the shrugging acceptance that can sometimes be implied by that phrase. If I’m going to grab hold of a phrase, then I’d rather it was the one first used by the UK government in 2003: Every Child Matters. There’s still a long way to go to fulfilling the goals of the original iniative, but I don’t think any of us – anywhere in the world – should lose sight of the ideal that ‘Every Child Matters’ until we have removed the injustice of inequality from these young and vulnerable lives.