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Bridging the Gap: Economic Inequality and Church Responses in the UK

Bridging the Gap: Economic Inequality and Church Responses in the UK

Economic inequality in the UK is shockingly high. This report explores how churches are helping tackle it, and calls on them to do more. (2020)

The UK, along with the rest of the world, faces an unprecedented economic crisis due to the COVID–19 pandemic. The spread of the coronavirus is exacerbating deep inequalities, hitting the poorest the hardest. The UK already has one of the highest levels of income inequality in Europe, with the top 20% of households receiving nearly half of all disposable household income; and this is likely to get worse in the coming years.[1] As we look to rebuild the economy, it is vital that we seize the opportunity to reduce inequalities of income and wealth. 

Churches, and Christians more widely, have unique contributions to make here, going beyond their traditional focus on poverty. Economic inequality is a spiritual, as much as a social, problem: as Archbishop Justin Welby has said, it is “the most destabilizing and unjust feature of our own society”.[2]

This report argues that after the pandemic, churches need to use their resources, both practical and theological, to become vocal champions against economic inequality, leading the national conversation about building a fairer economy.

The report:

  • Sets out the scale of economic inequality in the UK, and its negative consequences for society. A burgeoning body of research argues that in wealthy countries, as economic inequality rises, social mobility and equality of opportunity are reduced; health and educational problems grow; and levels of trust in democracy decline. Concern about these issues is increasingly crossing traditional political divides.
  • Shows how Christian theology can help us to think about economic inequality. While the Bible does not point to any one particular economic system, it is possible to draw out key Biblical principles concerning economic justice. The report also sets out three examples of theological criticisms that can be made against today’s levels of inequality. These ideas can help us move beyond often stagnant debates about economic inequality, by giving us a vision for an economy with a moral purpose, beyond mere consumerism and improving individual well–being.
  • Sets out the distinctive contributions UK churches are already making practically to helping reduce economic inequality. It focuses on churches’ contributions as a national voice; convenors of local initiatives; shareholders and investors; and education providers.

Finally, the report suggests ways in which churches can do more to help tackle economic inequality, both practically and in terms of their advocacy. As we face an even greater gap between rich and poor, it is vital that they do so.

 



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[1] The income share was 42% to 7% respectively before housing costs are taken into account. After housing costs, the income share was 44% to 5% respectively. Feargal McGuinness and Daniel Harari, Income Inequality in the UK (House of Commons Briefing 7484, 2019), p. 10.

[2] Justin Welby, Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope (London: Bloomsbury, 2018) p. 14.

 Image: frankie's/shutterstock.com

Simon Perfect

Simon Perfect

Simon is a Researcher at Theos. He is also a researcher and tutor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he leads campus–based and distance–learning courses exploring Muslim communities in Britain and in other minority settings.

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