Last week I visited our member Diakonie Austria and had the opportunity to learn about a lot of the work they are doing with refugees and asylum seekers and with those in extreme poverty. Visiting a project that supports access to housing and provides counselling on housing for refugees I was shocked to hear that there are adverts for accommodation that declare No Dogs, No Refugees. I was more than shocked – I was angry and upset. How have we got to a place in our societies where we see some of us as less than animals and as unwanted as animals might be?
I believe that we have let cracks in our societal cohesion go unfixed for too long and the lack of investment in incentivising and protective social policies has deepened the depth of these cracks. The continued focus on peoples’ economic worth – how much they cost or how much money in taxes they contribute – has damaged our view of what it is to be human and to be a valid and valuable member of our societies.
That is why one year on from the adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights we must see a greater commitment from countries across Europe to be much more ambitious when it comes to the provision of social services and the quest for social justice. It cannot be an incremental approach relying on the outputs of greater productivity and economic development. It must be a deliberate choice to ensure that no one falls through the cracks in our society but that also the cracks in our society must not exist. We must stop with ideas of competition between who is the most deserving of social care, of judging who will use social benefits in the best way or discussing who is a burden to our societies. Instead, we must put people first in all policies, ensuring that our markets, our policies and our democracies work for people and not for institutions. This may mean giving away power, changing our practices of participation and redesigning systems but it will be worth it if we stop seeing signs such as those in Austria.
The members of Eurodiaconia are constantly anticipating the cracks, filling the cracks with services and proposing policies that will be effective. We do this because we believe that every person is valuable and that each person has a contribution to make to society. We believe that no person is less than another, or indeed an animal, and that all have an inherent dignity that is given by our Creator.
I may have been angry and upset in Vienna, but I was also inspired by the work done there by Diakonie Austria and the continuing optimism that there can be something different, something positive and something transformational.
Have a good weekend,