Day twenty-three … empathy and fox-hunting on the coalface

If pushed for my most fundamental core belief I’d have to say it’s that every human being is of equal value in the eyes of God. Straightforward, you’d think. Although we may fall out over the ‘God’ part. Self evident, I believe the US Constitution puts it. The more so, you’d imagine, for those with claim to religion or spirituality. But I’ll leave that one for later. Yet even a cursory glance at the world will tell you how far short we fall of this ideal.

On a global scale, income inequality is increasing. The richest 67 people in the world own as much wealth between them as 3.5 billion of their poorer fellow beings. Here in the UK, cuts in provision for the poor and vulnerable have resulted in an escalation in the use of food banks, accompanied by a backlash from the the political elite, who seem to hold the poor responsible for the economic crisis in its entirety.

Inequality isn’t only about wealth. Gender and sexuality are major issues. Intolerance toward those who don’t conform to sexual ‘norms’ is alive and kicking. Literally in Uganda. Gender inequality is so endemic we’re almost blind to it. Laura Bates, originator of the Everyday Sexism website, makes the point in today’s Guardian. She cites the casual misogyny of men who see nothing wrong in intimidating a woman in the street. Then call her ‘frigid’ when she objects. We live in a nation where less than a quarter of MPs, and only 4 out of 22 cabinet members, are women. This should tell us something. On average, two women every week die at the hands of their abusers. Yet a report this week cites ‘alarming and unacceptable’ weaknesses in the police approach to domestic abuse. How can we lay claim to equality?

I’ve been working at St Mark’s Community Café, as well as One25, for almost two years. Until recently I thought that any politician worth their salt should spend six months in a place like this. It’s the coalface. The front line. The harsh reality of life. The place the addicted, broken, dispossessed queue up for bacon rolls. It should change your life. Maybe I was over-optimistic. Over-estimated the capacity of the elite for empathy. There’s hard evidence to suggest the rich really are less emotionally intelligent, or empathetic, than the poor. Or as someone put it to me this morning. Anyone who wants to reinstate fox-hunting – who derives pleasure from watching a live animal being torn to pieces – isn’t going to care much about his fellow human beings.

I’ve spent most of my life caring. I’ve been a mother. A foster carer. A youth worker. A long-term carer. A learning mentor. A live-in carer. I’m now a crazy volunteer. This is where my heart is. I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t make you rich. Or even financially secure. In a society where money matters most, looking after the vulnerable doesn’t count for much. If you want to get rich – ditch the love. Or as David Graeber’s headline in the Guardian this week says Caring too much. That’s the curse of the Working Classes.

So for the next few days the blog will be making a whistle-stop tour of a very small part of the world of human inequalities. Please come with me. Feel free to comment. To encourage or to disagree. And if you’d like to support an organisation that’s making a real difference to real lives, please have a look at One25’s website or at my fund raising page. Thank you.

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