In his recent New Statesman editorial, Archbishop Rowan Williams criticised the re-emergence of the seductive language of the deserving and underserving poor. The job of a Bishop is to teach and clarify. I have often thought that this particular Archbishop has a mission that is the opposite to that of the Institute of Economic Affairs (and in a different field). The IEA is supposed to take good complex free-market economics and expound it more clearly to a wider audience. The Archbishop often seems to take clear concepts and make them more complicated so it is extremely difficult to work out what he means.
There is an important debate to be had about the deserving and undeserving poor. Iain Duncan Smith ducked that debate in his response to the Archbishop by saying that he never used the words. I suppose it is quite reasonable for him not to use the words - politicians can choose their own terms for debate.
However, an Archbishop's job is to clarify and not to confuse and it is worth making some clarification here because all he did in his editorial was sow confusion. Indeed, this sort of clarification is one of the more useful contributions to political debate that Bishops can make. The obvious question raised by distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor is "deserving of what?" If that question is asked then clearly there is a distinction between deserving and undeserving for the Christian depending on what the "what" is? To trivialise, are the poor deserving of a Rolls Royce? Clearly not.
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