by Angus Macdonald PROMINENT Catholics from both Church and secular organisations have published a series of open letters to the Prime Minister in an attempt to place the issue of poverty firmly back on the government's agenda.
The letters published this week by the ecumenical pressure group Church Action on Poverty (CAP) are being sent to Prime Minister John Major and Church leaders, as well as all 651 MPs in the new parliament. They include appeals from the heads of national and international Catholic organisations involved in work on behalf of the poor, the homeless and the underprivileged and from those who live and work in some of Britain's most disadvantaged communities.
"There is an agenda here that is not being addressed certainly if the Queen's Speech is anything to go by and this is an attempt to set one," said CAP national coordinator Paul Goggins. "Part of the role of the Church is to go on giving the poor a voice, even when politicians can't."
His words were echoed by CAP chairwoman Hilary Russell, who said: "The journal is intended as a constructive contribution to a much-needed dialogue between those in power and those on the margins of society."
Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, Provincial of the Dominicans in Britain. called for a revival of community-based politics. 'Poverty has been described as 'a condition of partial citizenship'. The homeless drop off the electoral roll. Inability to pay the poll tax has led to thousands of other people failing to register. These are people who have lost the most democratic right: to cast their vote."
Ian Linden, director of the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CUR) said: "Whether or not these will be the 'caring 90s' will depend on whether the government knows what empowerment of the poor means."
In common with many of the contributors, he appealed to Mr Major to see for himself the true extent of deprivation. "Get out of your car, escape your security men, and move beyond the coterie of expert advisers encircling you." he advised the Prime Minister. "If you go genuinely to listen and not to set up photo-opportunities, people will respect your integrity and may even talk to you."
Sr Margaret Walsh 11, who works with the Hope Community in Heath Town, Wolverhampton, invited the Prime Minister to meet the "courageous and gifted people" with whom she worked.
"Changes for the better will happen when we are prepared to listen to and learn from the poor," said Sr Walsh. "Then we will find the reasons for the apathy, the despair and the brokenness."
Robina Rafferty, director of the Catholic Housing Aid Society (CHAS), wrote: "You announced that you were Prime Minister of this country for everyone, whether they voted for you or not. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of homeless and badlyhoused people who looked in vain for their problems to be debated during the election campaign. I am writing to implore you to translate this into action."
She went on to outline a series of practical steps for increasing public sector investment. restoring confidence in the housing market, and reducing repossessions.
The broadside on poverty comes in the same week as Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool told a congregation at the Lichfield's Anglican Cathedral that there could be no half measures about the Churches' involvement in combating poverty and deprivation.
Archbishop Worlock was speaking at a special service to celebrate the Lichfield diocesan response to the Church Urban Fund, an Anglican foundation aimed at supporting practical projects in urban priority areas. The fund, which is celebrating its fourth anniversary this weekend, supports 450 projects in inner city areas throughout Britain.