Sue Withers works at the London Jesus Centre in Westminster, just two minutes’ walk from Oxford Street. Every weekday many hundreds of London’s homeless and vulnerable population pass through its doors. Sue and Julia, one of our writers, share their thoughts on the shocking polarities of London life.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” wrote that famous Londoner and social reformer Charles Dickens. What would he say now about a social divide that has widened to grotesque proportions? About the super-rich living amongst the abject poor, and caring little about the incongruity of their elevated position? Of vulnerable homeless people who are regularly kicked and urinated on by people leaving nightclubs at 3am. We, the Jesus Centre workers, see their bruises and black eyes: evidence of shameful arrogance and contempt.
“London is not just a global financial powerhouse but also a centre of excess and greed.” writes Independent correspondent, Simon Kelner.
The rich are getting richer, we’re informed, and no place is it more obvious than in London. The UK is considered one of the most unequal countries in the world. It is home to the global superrich. In London’s most prosperous neighbourhood many houses are unoccupied for long periods - owned as investments. Houses costing £10million are not uncommon.
Pricey perfume from Harrods
Last year Knightsbridge superstore, Harrods, launched the world's most expensive perfume costing £143,000. The perfume comes in a diamond encrusted bottle covered in 24 carat gold.
In contrast, the Independent reports that more than 50,000 poor families have had to leave London in the last three years – due to welfare cuts and soaring rents. Many families who cannot afford to find homes in the London boroughs have been being uprooted from neighbourhoods and forced to live far away from the capital, away from their families and friends.
The government’s benefit cap and ‘bedroom tax’ has made it much harder for poor people to afford to live in London. Councils have been moving homeless mothers and children out of London boroughs at the rate of nearly 500 families a week to locations as far away as Manchester, Bradford Dover and Plymouth. The human cost is great: depression, attempted suicide.
A recent report released by the Department for Communities and Local Government (2015) revealed that 742 people were sleeping rough in London on any one night (around a quarter of the national total) . This was an increase of 37% on 2013. (The Telegraph)
And what of the poorest of the poor, the ‘failed’ asylum seekers? They live amongst us like shadows: not wanting to be seen. No rights, no money, no status, no jobs, no education and no future. Condemned to continual nothingness in a society that wishes they didn’t exist.
I pity the pampered rich who have no heart to aid the sleeping homeless man as they stride across the city. With averted eyes, they ignore the ‘pavement’ seller’s plea. In their blind pursuit of their gods they cannot be diverted or consider the poor.
If only they knew the secret of the poor: that God draws near, and the Kingdom opens to the poor in spirit. Then they might even be tempted to envy the simple dignity of the refugee, or the down to earth humour and comradeship of the rough sleeper.
“Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field.” (James 1:9-10)