Christmas Comment with Françoise Pinteaux-Jones, Third Order of St Francis

MONDAY, December 10 was Human Rights day.

The findings of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on our country’s performance in this respect are out, to indignant reactions from the Government.

One has to assume, then, that it was not its intention to adopt “a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instil discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world”.

Readers of this paper will have heard campaigners in town warn that one is but two pay cheques away from the street at any time and the evidence of our own eyes support that dire possibility – such is “today’s world”.

But for others, joining the growing ranks of homeless is so unlikely that such a fate is beyond empathising reach.

It is hard to believe that decision makers who had tasted of the insecurity their aim was to palliate would have been as uncaring and disrespectful, as blissfully unaware of the trauma of dependency, oblivious to children's misery.

The harsh treatments they advocate and the denial of the resulting suffering stems from a perception of the poor as “unlike [us] in a very fundamental way”: ‘they’ do not know how to manage their money, ‘their’ extravagant ownership a mobile phone apparently relieving us of any concern, as if the current benefit system did not rely on internet access, as if no ‘welfare dependant’ were actually in work, on the low wages that make goods cheaper for others.

Now, from the outset, Jesus announced “good news to the poor” and he unfailingly aligned with them leaving us in no doubt as to what is expected of us today.

And don’t go thinking it stops at supplying the food bank and furnishing the wardrobe outside the Co-op – even if that comes close enough to John the Baptist’s injunction in this Sunday’s gospel.

Never mind being two pay cheques away from homelessness, Jesus would have us as one with the homeless, partaking in the poor’s humanity, a soundbox for the silenced.