WHEN more than a million public sector workers took industrial action last month, the Right Rev Nigel Stock saw a TV interview with a striker who claimed they ‘couldn’t make ends meet and Christmas was cancelled’.
It hit home and reinforced his belief that people should think generously of those in need this festive season.
The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, who is the most senior Anglican clergyman in Suffolk, said: “The hope that’s contained in the Christ Child is that Christmas is never cancelled.
“Part of the Christmas message is about the generosity of God.
“It’s really important we find ways of being generous even if it’s with time, sympathy and care for people who are facing quite tough times and supporting those voluntary organisations who are facing cuts.”
In an age of austerity with services and jobs slashed, does he think society has become too insular for people to take up that generous action?
“It’s been very interesting as the Social Attitudes Survey suggests there’s been a turning in but I think we find numerous examples of people doing things completely different from that,” he says.
“There are people asking questions about society and how you might learn to be more generous to each other.
“You can go around and find plenty of examples of people in the voluntary sector working extremely hard to support people in difficulty.
“There’s an inititaive in Ipswich to provide shelter, accommodation and meals for the homeless through the severe winter months.”
Bishop Nigel also highlights the work of the Suffolk Foundation and its Surviving Winter Appeal, which asks those who can afford to to donate their Winter Fuel Payment to help older people affected by fuel poverty.
The foundation works to ‘help local people find local solutions to local community needs from the grassroots up’ across Suffolk.
The 61-year-old, who has donated his winter fuel allowance to the appeal, explains: “Where there are things like universal benefits and winter fuel allowances, it isn’t impossible for people to donate that. It’s part of the evidence we’re not becoming more insular as it has struck a chord with people.
With echoes of David Cameron’s Big Society, does he think the voluntary sector could deliver the same quality of services as those provided by the state?
He says: “There are certain things they won’t be able to take on just like that. However, I think we ought to be open to seeing what can be done.
“One of the worries of universal cuts is that they’re indiscriminate in who they effect. I would hope there are ways of looking out for those who get disproportionately affected. It’s perhaps there that the voluntary sector needs to concentrate.
“The Church has had a particular concern for children and how they might be affected.”
This year the Church has faced its own difficulties with Occupy London protesters setting up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral to demonstrate against economic inequality.
What did he think of the church’s response?
Bishop Nigel says: “The occupy movement isn’t particularly coherent in terms of what their aims are. They’re bringing together a concern about the ethical regulation of our economy and the financial sector of the country.
“I think it was difficult for the Church to know exactly how to react because of the rather incoherent ideas being put forward.
“There was a point in all this about concern over the disparities of wealth which the Church does need to be concerned about.”
But for now, Bishop Nigel’s emphasis is on generosity.
“God’s generous love goes on being given and it’s important we respond to that love by letting that love be known and be shown to people who are in need.”