In this assembly, Brian Radcliffe invites students, in light of the Government’s proposed spending cuts, to consider the way they prioritise their time, money and energy
Engagement[The following are delivered loudly, as news headlines]
Reader 1: ‘Coalition Government proposes massive spending cuts to bring down the debt’
Reader 2: ‘Police chief claims terrorist threat will rise if budgets are cut’
Reader 1: ‘Don’t hit the elderly, the vulnerable or the disadvantaged, pleads social services head’
Reader 2: ‘Protect the Olympics from cash drain’
Reader 1: ‘New teaching hospital comes under threat’
Reader 2: ‘Our brave troops must always be given the best equipment, whatever the cost. Their lives depend on it’
Leader: Headlines like those have filled our newspapers, TV and radio ever since the new coalition government announced its plans to reduce the UK’s national debt by making massive financial cuts to government spending. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his deputy, Danny Alexander, have instructed departmental ministers to find savings of up to 40% on the money that they expected to have available to fund their projects. That would be like your parents telling you that, for every £1 of pocket money you receive at present, you will in future only get 60p. Instead of £3 you would get £1.80p. Instead of £5 you would get £3. Instead of £10 you would get £6, and so on.
How does the government decide where to make the cuts? Should they be spread evenly over every department or do some departments deserve to be protected? According to the latest reports, the Department of Health, the one that finances hospitals and GPs, and the Department for International Development, that sends financial support wherever in the world there is a serious need, will not have to make any savings. Their work is seen as so important that no reduction is planned. The Department of Education and the Defence Department have both been told that reductions for them will be small, probably about 10%, a sign that they too are seen as very important to the country. It’s everyone else that will suffer: pensions, benefits, prisons, arts, sport, transport etc.
Do you agree with those decisions? Most people appear to support the importance of Health and Education but what about Defence? There are many who would like to see us get rid of our armed forces in all but the simplest form. How about finance for the developing world? Some people say we should look after our own before we start to send money abroad. It’s a difficult job trying to prioritise.
You may think that making such decisions have nothing to do with you. You’re surely only on the receiving end, feeling the consequences of the cuts? However you each have to make similar choices every day in your own lives. You too have resources that you can choose to be generous with, or to limit. First you have money. It may not be a lot when it’s compared with the millions, if not billions of pounds available to a government department, yet a regular donation from you of as little as £1 a month can make a significant difference to the life of a young child in the developing world. On the other hand, a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates bought as a surprise gift can bring a smile to the face of someone who’s going through a bad time. Second, you have time. To someone who is lonely because of their age or disability, a ½ hour visit each week can bring a lot of pleasure, or else for you to take on the responsibility for a monotonous task at home could relieve the pressure on someone else. Finally, you have energy, which is demonstrated as you run and kick a ball, dance across the room, sing your heads off and play practical jokes. The same energy could be used to fetch and carry, to run an errand, to cut an elderly neighbour’s grass.
Some of you are looking at me as if I’ve suggested a totally alien idea. The thought that you might spend some of your money, time and energy on others is a bit of a novelty, to say the least. I’m going to leave you to think about that for a moment.
Others of you are thinking: ‘I’d love to be involved in some of those ways of helping, but I don’t think I could do all of them’. That’s the point at which you become like the government: you can’t do everything, you can only do some of it, so which part do you choose to do? What are your priorities? The government has placed a top priority on the areas of Health and International Development. Those departments will get the money they need to do their work properly. Other departments will have to make do with less. You may choose to place top priority on your granny and the Christian Aid charity, spending time and giving a little of your pocket money. On the other hand you may feel it’s more important to wash up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and to buy a block of Fruit and Nut for dad because he fixed your bike. There is no right answer, simply the fact that you made the effort to do something for someone.
Let’s get back to those of you who’ve been considering the revolutionary idea of using the bundle of resources that is you for the benefit of others. It’s a wonderful fact that there’s a payback in acting in this way. In fact there’s a variety of paybacks: there’s the feeling of satisfaction when a job’s well done, the words of gratitude, the sense that the world is a slightly better place because of your actions.
…if we all acted in this way − choosing to look outwards with our money, time and energy − then we know that someone will be there for us when we need help.
Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.
Dear GodYou make us people who have resources that can be sharedMay we be willing to give some of our money, time and energyHelp us as we choose the most important priorities amongst the many opportunities and demands that present themselves to us
This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2010
About the author: Brian Radcliffe