Its Time to Close the Power Gap… are you in?

Underlying all the other inequalities in the UK is a Power Gap: Big business exercising too much power, whilst local communities feel that they have little or no say in decisions that affect them.    

In our modern globalised world, it is easy to feel disenchanted, disempowered and disconnected from the big decisions which shape our lives and the lives of our communities.  Global economic forces, corporate power, distant political parties, managerialist bureaucracy, and decision-making processes which lack transparency all conspire together to drain any sense of agency away from the local. We feel as if we have no power to affect the big decisions that really matter. 

Helena Kennedy observed in the Power Inquiry: “The disengagement from politics … cannot be dismissed as the preoccupation of the chattering classes. Its substance has come from the voices of thousands of people around the country who feel quietly angry or depressed. When it comes to politics they feel they are eating stones. Principle and ideas seem to have been replaced with managerialism and public relations. It is as though Proctor and Gamble or Abbey National are running the country.” 

The think tank Demos have argued in the Power Gap, it is power, not income, which is the critical inequality in Britain. This is the divide that matters to our wellbeing and progress as a nation.  In its Power Map of Britain, the areas with the least power are the inner urban areas – Glasgow, Birmingham, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough – with the highest levels of poverty. 

The problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions.” Barack Obama.

Set against this, banks, markets and financial institutions seem to wield enormous and entirely unaccountable power over the fate of whole nations.  

Fundamentally as Christians, we believe that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God.  But what does this mean in practice? Arguably nothing defines us as human beings more than our agency, or in theological terms, our free will:  If we are rendered powerless, our very humanity is threatened. 

Yet, within the churches, we also sometimes seem to have an antipathy to power.  When we see power being exercised over people, we rightly recoil.  But power can be a force for good, as well as for ill. 

“Power is the ability to achieve a purpose…  It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change.” Martin Luther King

But do we believe another world is possible?  And if so, what are we going to do about it? If we are passionate about wanting to see healthier communities, a more socially just society or an end to poverty locally – or globally- we must surely also want the strength (or power) to bring these things about. 

The challenge to the Church is therefore to discover how we can contribute to building a movement which is powerful enough to bring about the social, political and economic changes necessary to Close the Gap.  

We know, from the efforts of Jubilee 2000, that when the Churches come together with others and mobilise the power of our collective voice, we can bring about change.  We know too from our work at Church Action on Poverty that this approach can and does work in a domestic context as well. 

One of the keys to restoring faith in democracy is ensuring that the MPs we elect at the General Election are held to account for what they do on our behalf in Parliament, and not just once every five years.  We must be willing to hold our MPs to account on a regular and on-going basis. 

By working together, we can ensure that issues we care passionately about – including Closing the Gap between rich and poor – are firmly on the political agenda. 

Together, we can enable local communities to have a more effective, stronger and more powerful public voice, and Churches have a key role to play in this task.

You can download the full report: Its Time to Close the Gap, with contributiors including John Packer (Bishop of Ripon); Rev Michael Taylor (High Pay Commission); Marijke Hoek (Micah Challenge) and others published this week.

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2 Responses to Its Time to Close the Power Gap… are you in?

  1. You’re right about the issue of power, but I think the churches’ cause is undermined by their inability to address the uses and abuses of power within their own ranks. Does the word of the churches only become really powerful when they themselves put aside the levers and trappings of power?

    • niallcooper says:

      I agree Julian, that the churches aren’t always the greatest advertisment for the values they themselves espouse. Personally, I’m an advocate of disestablishment (as a son of the manse, you understand) – not least because unelected Bishops in an unelected House of Lords are in themselves a powerful symbol of the Power Gap. For all that, my point is that the churches still have the potential to be an incredibly powerful force for good (not least the Bishops’ opposition to the worst aspects of the welfare reform bill) – if they put their mind to it…

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