With the Poor and Mean and Lowly Lived on Earth our Saviour Holy (Ros' Blog)
Jesus was born into a country under Roman occupation. Times were harsh for the poorest members of society – and we know that His family were poor, not only because He had to be laid in a manger but also because His parents sacrificed two doves, as was permitted for poor families, rather than the lamb which was the normal sacrifice at the birth of a child.
Within a short time of His birth He became a refugee, and only returned home once it was safe to do so. Home was an insignificant village of probably fewer than five hundred residents, which had no trade routes and was of no economic importance; poverty was a way of life for its inhabitants. Jesus grew into an adult who had 'nowhere to lay His head' and so little money that He had to trust God for a miracle when His tax was due. A very different world from the one we inhabit. Or is it?
Contact a Family has published the 2014 results of its annual 'Counting the Costs' survey, which aims to build an accurate picture of the economic circumstances of families in the UK with disabled children. Of the people who completed the survey, twenty-five percent have more than one disabled child and half say they or their partner have a disability or health condition. Twenty-eight percent are lone parents, and sixty-six percent of the households have someone in paid employment.
The survey, conducted every other year, showed that since 2012, the number of respondents going without food has almost doubled to thirty-one percent. The number going without heating has increased from twenty-one and a half percent to thirty-three percent. Of these, twenty-two percent say their child’s health has worsened as a result of going without essentials and forty-nine percent say their own health has suffered. Marriages and relationships have foundered as a result. “Going without everyday essentials” means different things for different families; most had no days out or leisure time; many had cut back on purchasing clothes and car fuel. A very significant number (more than a third) could not afford specialist equipment, therapies and hospital visits.
Sixty-five percent say that in the past twelve months they have fallen behind on energy and utility bills; thirty-six percent have taken a loan, most of them to pay for food and heating. Fifty-one percent have had threats of court action for non-payment of bills, mainly for council tax and energy bills. Unsurprisingly, ninety-three percent report anxiety and stress.
More than twenty-five percent of those surveyed reported that they incur an average of £300 of extra costs directly as a result of their child’s disability. These costs are for things like special clothes or equipment, adapted transport, and more frequent laundry and replacement of items. Eighty-eight percent have caring responsibilities that prevent them working as many hours as they want, and almost three-quarters are cutting back on work or giving up on careers because of the difficulty of finding specialist care for their disabled child. A third are worse off as a direct result of benefit changes, nearly half of them by £30 a week.
Right at the outset of His ministry, the child who had grown up in poverty stated that He had come to preach good news to the poor. He supported His words with actions, seeking out the poorest and most marginalised members of society to show them God’s love and power. He specified that poor people, as well as disabled people, were to be given pride of place at the banquets of the wealthy. In the parable of the sheep and the goats He was very specific about the way in which His followers should care for the poorest and most disadvantaged people around them.
The apostles took up His call – Paul connected giving to the poor with the example of Christ: “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also… For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8. 7-9)
James declared that religion was worthless unless it included generosity towards those who were lacking life’s essentials: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1.27).
This Christmas, as we worship the one who was born into poverty, lived among poor people and challenged us to care for those around us who lack the means to meet their own needs, let us be aware of those who are raising disabled children in hardship and want, and ask God to show us what we can do to help.