“Orange the world: End violence against women now!”


As we begin to emerge from a global pandemic, research and data is not yet able to fully measure its impact on the globe. However the UN have identified a shadow pandemic, formed with emerging data and reports from those working on the frontline with evidence that women and girls experiences of violence and exploitation have increased. 

This year the United Nations marks its 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence on the 25th of November until the 10th of December 2021, with its global theme set by the UN Secretary – General’s UNITE campaign is “Orange the World: “End Violence against Women Now”

The campaign sends a clear message that the mission is to see an end to violence against women and girls, and that the need is now. 

“The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because its demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men, there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.” 

Fiona Broadfoot
Survivor of International Trafficking and Prostitution

Women@thewell is a frontline provider of support and exiting services, based in London, supporting women, whose lives are affected by prostitution both on street and off street, including women who have been trafficked into the sex trade. 

As with data from the shadow pandemic, women@thewell identified trends across support services highlighting a demographic shift in those in need of our support, supporting women who pre pandemic would not have typically experienced exposure to exploitation in the sex trade. We believe this is a direct consequence of economic disadvantage, and that the women we supported through the pandemic shine a bright light of clarity on the links already identified in the sector- between economic disadvantage and exploitation and abuse. 

Our mission is to work towards full abolition of the sex trade, lobbying and campaigning around legislation that protects women. Now more than ever we believe this is the only way to keep women safe and protected. Under an abolitionist legal framework, society recognises that women are not saleable objects and should have choices, which come from a place of stability, not mere survival. 

As Fiona Broadfoot, a survivor of international trafficking and prostitution says, “The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because its demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men, there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.” 

Our experience delivering frontline services indicates strongly that this model, alongside provision of holistic exiting services – is essential to break down the barriers and enable women to exit prostitution. Shaping a society in which commercialised, one sided sexual gratification has no place. 

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to ending and preventing all forms of violence against women, has announced a special fundraising challenge, Give25forUNTF25, marking 25 years of grant-making to support women’s organisations around the world.We believe that female only support and advocacy services such as women@thewellplay an essential and imperative role in the fight against violence against women and girls. 

During the next sixteen days, we celebrate the hard work and commitment by individuals and organisations across the globe – who advocate for change and the end to violence against women each and every day. 

Jo Thompson 
External Affairs Manager 

#ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021


By Jo Thompson, External Affairs Manager, women@thewell (CSAN member charity)

This year International Women’s Day asked us “to choose to challenge”, to celebrate women’s achievements and forge a gender equal world. 

The definition of achievement is “a thing done successfully with effort, skill, or courage.” During the global pandemic, women across the globe have shown achievement daily and often without recognition. In a world where we have not yet reached gender equality, it will come as no surprise that women have used “effort, skills and courage” simply to survive. 

Women@thewell is a frontline service provider of support and exiting services, based in London, supporting women whose lives are affected by prostitution, both on street and off street, including women who have been trafficked into the sex trade. This year we use our “choose to challenge” for all women across the globe entrapped in the sex trade, a trade built upon oppression of women. We believe that until society recognises the buying and selling of a woman’s body as abhorrent, we will never achieve true gender equality. 

In the last year there was a noticeable trend across our services of women who would not have typically experienced exposure to exploitation in the sex trade seeking support. We believe this is a direct consequence of loss of employment and/or housing. This new cohort of women shines a bright light of clarity on the direct link between disadvantage, poverty and entrapment in the sex trade. Rachel Moran, our ambassador, author and founder of the abolitionist non-government organisation Space International, says,

The concept of ‘choice’ when applied to prostitution is both misleading and offensive because the cash is the coercion, and no woman or girl would choose prostitution if she had other options. It is a ‘choice out of no choice”.  

When one thinks of choice, how often do you have the luxury of free choice? Many women we support have little or no option other than to make ‘choices’ based on survival, in some cases as stark as the choice to live or die, a fact which especially highlighted by the current pandemic: Melissa Farley says, 

“You might survive the virus, but you won’t survive not eating for two months. If you ask any rational person if they’d rather take the virus, or not eat, that’s not even a thought”  

Gentile, 2020 (pdf)

Women entrapped in the sex trade face a range of challenging situations, such as homelessness, substance misuse, mental and physical health issues and poverty. All women should have access to support for their basic needs such as secure accommodation, access to healthcare and a regular income.  Without these it is impossible to live a life free from poverty and associated exploitation.  

With these in place, women can access viable opportunities and choices which are not influenced by survival, but instead come from a place of stability and free choice. 

We have been part of the conversation in the UK around prostitution and the issue of consent, which was referenced in the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission report, ‘The Limits of Consent’ (June 2019) – ‘In the context of prostitution many factors can inhibit one’s capacity to make a free choice.’ This is something which is very clear to us every day in our service provision. 

How can we together change the landscape for women and girls whilst building a world free from disadvantage, abuse and exploitation? 

We are committed to working towards full abolition of the sex trade. Lobbying and campaigning for the introduction of legislation to protect women sold into the sex trade remains high on our agenda. We believe this is the only possible option to keep women safe and protected – by the introduction of a legal framework that sends a clear message that women are not saleable objects.  

As Fiona Broadfoot, a survivor of internal trafficking and prostitution says,

“The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because it is the demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.”  

Our experience delivering frontline services indicates strongly that this model – alongside provision of holistic exiting services – is essential to break down barriers and enable women to exit prostitution. Shaping a society in which commercialised, one-sided sexual gratification has no place. 

On his visit to the UK in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI asked leaders in British society, including politicians, business leaders and academics, gathered in Westminster Hall, “Where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?”  

Women@thewell advocate that ethical choices must be backed by Government legislation and a society which does not view women as saleable objects.  

Our “choose to challenge” today and from this day forward, is to challenge gender equality and celebrate all woman’s achievements as great accomplishments, against the odds day after day. 

Images from the work of artist Claudia Clare’s ‘And the Door Opened’ Project, undertaken in partnership with women@thewell. Re-used with permission.

The views expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not CSAN policy.

No salvation in fiscal policy


By Philip Booth, Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics, St. Mary’s University, Twickenham 

Yesterday, I ended a presentation to sixth-formers by commenting that nobody would want to be Rishi Sunak. Of course, in the strict sense that is not true – indeed, many of the people to whom I was talking might well have had ambitions to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course, what I meant was that the Chancellor was facing the most difficult combination of circumstances of anybody in his position since the mid-1970s. It is in this context that we have to consider the widespread calls to increase government spending on welfare. 

Last year, government spending was about 45 per cent of national income and taxation about 38 per cent of national income. And this is before the big surge in spending caused by Covid-19. Since then, the economy has shrunk dramatically. As we know, the electorate is resistant to spending cuts: in the 2010-2015 period, government spending in real terms (that is after inflation) was cut by just 0.5 per cent per annum and this led to mass protests. It is difficult politically to square the fiscal circle with spending cuts. At the same time, the tax take is more or less at its peacetime high. 

Although it was right for the government to borrow more money to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, our national debt has now reached worrying levels. After declining from its post Second World War peak, it shot up in the financial crisis 13 years ago and has never gone back to a sustained declining path since. The pandemic is likely to take the national debt well over 100 per cent of national income. We can borrow to smooth the costs of a crisis, but anybody who thinks we can increase the national debt on a sustained basis in normal terms over many decades is living in cloud cuckoo land. 

What makes the Chancellor’s position so difficult, is that this is only the start of our problems. Before the Covid-19 crisis really got going, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) produced its annual Fiscal Sustainability Report. It suggested that, on current policy (that is with tax rates unchanged and thresholds increased in line with government plans and making reasonable assumptions about health, pensions, social care and other spending), the national debt would rise to 400 per cent of national income over the next 50 years. To stabilise the debt, taxes would have to rise by a total of 15 percentage points of national income over that period (in other words increase by 40 per cent over and above their current level). 

That’s okay, people might think. There are political choices to be made. We should ask the rich to pay a bit more tax. We can be a bit more like Sweden. However, tax increases of this magnitude are not about asking some people to pay a bit more tax. They would take the burden above that in any developed country. Indeed, it could not be done without hitting the less-well-off and choking off economic growth to such an extent that there would be huge suffering. 

In fact, looking at other countries’ tax systems is instructive. In Scandinavian countries they do have a higher tax burden. However, this is a burden which falls very much on the less well off too. In Denmark, an individual will pay 25 per cent value added tax on everything – including children’s clothes, fuel and food. An individual earning £9,000 a year would pay direct tax of about 16 per cent of their income and then pay VAT on their spending. In the UK, an individual on such low earnings would pay no direct tax and no VAT on food, children’s clothing, fuel and a number of other exempt items. 

The interesting feature of tax and welfare systems in developed countries is that they are very different from each other, but their redistributive effect is remarkably similar. Indeed, the UK is firmly in the top half of the league table for the extent to which its tax and welfare system redistributes money from rich to poor. 

The fundamental reason why the government’s position is so difficult is demography. A rising proportion of old people explains nearly all the OBR’s dire projections. Unfortunately, it is too late to do anything about that. The time for encouraging saving to pay for pensions, health and care costs or for the government to run surpluses so that it had a buffer to deal with the ageing of the baby boomers was 25 years ago. Many of us wasted a lot of energy making that case then. 

We are genuinely resourced constrained in a way we have not seen before. To have reached what seems like the maximum taxable capacity of the economy whilst spending needs accelerate due to demography is nothing short of a fiscal disaster. 

At least Catholic social teaching has some other places to look when it comes to thinking about how we might help the poor. Indeed, it has never regarded the government as the main source of welfare. We might, for example, look at housing policy. Restrictions on house building, largely arising from well-off vested interests campaigning against house building, have meant that between 1969 and 2019, UK house prices have risen by 3.7 times over and above inflation. In Germany, over the same period, house prices have risen by 20 per cent. This is an unmitigated disaster for the poor. It is a major explanation for poverty in the United Kingdom. This is not about a lack of social housing: we have the third highest level of social housing in Europe. It is about planning constraints on housebuilding.  

We might also look to the family. In the UK, 22 per cent of children live in lone parent households. This compares with an EU average of 17 per cent, 15 per cent in Germany and 12 per cent in Holland. Persistent poverty is two-and-a-half times greater in lone parent families than in couple families. We might ask, what is tax and welfare policy doing to support family formation? The answer is that it is more or less uniquely bad in Europe from that perspective. What can civil society institutions and charities do to support the family? What can the Church do to change culture? 

This is a difficult discussion. It can easily seem as if we are blaming lone parents. This needs to be turned round. Life as a lone parent is very, very difficult. We should have every sympathy with them. But government policy, civil society and the Church need to simultaneously help build stronger families whilst supporting those families in difficulty for whatever reason. This will help reduce poverty significantly as well as having many other positive spin-offs. 

The great tradition of Catholic social teaching has, of course, always had lessons for government policy. But the common good is the responsibility of all individuals and institutions in society. We do need to recognise that there is no easy solution to the many problems the country faces arising from fiscal adjustments. Simply complaining that the government is not spending enough money is not a prudent response (in any sense of the word). And we should be aware – the situation is going to get worse over several decades. We need to look in other directions if we are to find lasting solutions to the problem of poverty. 

The views in this blog are of the author and not CSAN policy.

Helping the bereaved and coping with feelings


By Jacinta Goode, Caritas East Anglia

In recent times I’ve been thinking about grief and loss, as I’m sure many of us have. For me, this has been both on a personal level and more recently, on a wider scale.  Any one of us may have experienced the loss of a loved one and most of us probably have. 

There are also, of course, many other types of grief. In these extraordinary times, we are witnessing – and perhaps experiencing – many types of loss: from the loss of freedom of movement which we have all had to cope with, to loss of contact with family and friends, the loss of a secure income and possibly even our home. As one psychiatrist put it, this is grieving on a global scale. 

At any one time, there may be someone in our life who is in need of support through a time of grieving, but in these extraordinary times, everyone is grieving in one way or another – possibly in multiple ways – all at the same time.  That requires awareness of others on an unprecedented scale. That, alongside greater self-awareness and gentleness. Everyone we know will need extra care in the way we speak to them, consider them, how we walk their journey with them and everyone is in need of extra prayerful support – including ourselves. We remember how, on arriving at his friend Lazarus’ tomb, ‘Jesus wept’ (Jn 11:35) so we know that Jesus also experienced grief and loss. We can be comforted in the knowledge that Jesus understands our feelings and that He will walk this journey with us.

So it was with interest that I attended a webinar on grieving, facilitated by Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN). Dr Mike Scanlan, a psychiatric nurse and mindfulness expert, spoke about mindfulness techniques which are helpful in recognising our feelings and how we can influence our own healing.  Mike used five ideas to help us to gently give ourselves back control through a time of grieving.

He spoke first of the importance of acknowledging our feelings, and stressed that it is not useful to set goals. It’s not helpful, for example, to say: “You ought to be over this by now.” 

What is more useful is, firstly, to acknowledge how we are feeling, and then to keep a grip on the things which really matter to us. Mike cited the importance of accepting an invitation from a friend or family member to a video call or a walk. If that person matters to us, then we surely matter to them, too. He then explained the BOLD process, which he suggested we use four or five times each day:

B – Take one breath
O – Observe yourself and ask, “How am I doing right now?” and notice your answer.
L – Lean in and ask: “Is how I am right now the me that I like and would like to be? Am I responding to situations and people around me in the way that I would like to?”
D – Make a Decision to respond in the way that I would like to, rather than the way in which I just did. Make a decision to change the who I want to be.

Secondly, Mike spoke about the importance of keeping in contact with the present moment. If we find ourselves leaning forwards into the unknown future, or backwards into things past, just be aware of this and gently bring ourselves back to the present moment and what is going on right now.

Realise that what is happening is important to the grieving process.  It is OK – and in fact it’s important – to accept that this is going to be tough. 

The other really important thing to remember is that all things pass, and this immediate feeling will also pass. We might recall the famous quote from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Mike also spoke about how we have control over our thoughts. Many times, those who are grieving have unhelpful thoughts such as: “I could have done more” or “I should have done something differently.” 

His suggestion is that we notice we are having these thoughts and then count to 10. He used the example of a scam text coming in from someone pretending to be our bank. Our instinctive response to these scams would be to say: “I’m not buying into that – I’m not going to click on the link, because I know that’s not real.”  We can apply this kind of response to our unhelpful thoughts.

When we have negative thoughts, Mike suggests we look at the situation from outside of ourselves. If we take a step away and look at ourselves as another person would – or perhaps as God would – we will see a different perspective. When we do this, we can see that our perception of “I’m not good enough” is in fact just that: a perception. Whereas our actual self (which other people – and God – see) is OK.

By using these techniques, we can make a commitment to ourselves to be the best version of ‘me’ that we can. But let’s not be judgemental when we don’t live up to that ‘me’, when we’re not perfect. The most important thing is to be kind to both those around us and also to ourselves.

This blog post was first published by the Diocese of East Anglia. Any views expressed are those of the author.

Love under lockdown


By Paul Bodenham, Programme Leader for Social Action, Diocese of Nottingham

Even if you have escaped the coronavirus so far, I am sure that, like me, you are grappling with its impact – on yourself, your family and friends, your world and on your branch of the Caritas family.

While other countries were locking down in March 2020, the British government initially took a controversial strategy of ‘herd immunity’, which required an infection rate of up to 60%. There was an outcry when independent scientists forecast it would mean that 250,000 British lives would be lost. But by then, many more people, possibly leading to thousands, had become infected.

The bewildering loss of life in Britain has confronted us with challenging questions about our Anglo-Saxon values. Did we choose leaders who value capital and wealth more than people and life? Can we believe in that kind of world anymore? How will our Prime Minister’s encounter with mortality change his own leadership? How will we pull together in the aftermath?

Already polls say that only 9% of Britons want to go back to ‘normal’. The air is clearer; communities are becoming reunited; poorly paid workers in essential services are at last getting the esteem they deserve. There is a sense here in the United Kingdom that we stand on a threshold.

When lockdown finally did come, the nation was unready. Church congregations had no opportunity to meet to plan their pastoral care and outreach. Consequently the response of Caritas organisations in England and Wales has varied widely according to their capacity. In many dioceses, including my own in the East Midlands, Caritas is not a provider of professional services, but rather a network of volunteers and parishes. In fact, Nottingham Diocese is not yet a Caritas diocese at all, but on the journey, thanks to support from Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN).

The initial response in smaller dioceses like mine was characterised by a focus on sacraments and safeguarding, where the greatest capacity exists. There was an early proliferation of live-streamed Masses, but it is proving harder to move pastoral care online. Clergy were advised that volunteers must have a criminal record check, but there were no precedents to say what they could safely do. Catholics have been encouraged to volunteer with civil projects approved by local authorities, and discouraged from putting themselves and the Church at risk by establishing parish-based initiatives.

This cautious early response was understandable and necessary, but does little to foster the dynamism of caritas in our communities. As the person leading the development of Caritas for Nottingham Diocese, I have found that my role must face in two directions: outward service and inward investment.

For the outward journey I turned to CSAN and SVP (Society of St Vincent de Paul) for help to develop creative responses that are safe for volunteers and beneficiaries. I played a small part in the preparation of a pandemic response toolkit, which I hope will be promoted far and wide.

Looking inwards, the pandemic has revealed how much Caritas relies on the capital assets of the Church – spiritual, financial and human. A seven-point call to action is emerging for our parishioners:

  • Community Care – Look after vulnerable parishioners, and yourself;
  • Networked Parish – Stay socially distanced but still connected;
  • Virtual volunteering – Offer your ICT and social media skills;
  • Grow in the Gospel – Meet up, seek God, reach out;
  • We are Caritas – Tend a wounded world with love;
  • Stay connected – Sign up for news through lockdown and beyond;
  • Weekly offertory – Switch to Standing Order.

In Nottingham, we were due to launch our Caritas journey at a diocesan conference on 28 March, but it did not happen. We have published the prospectus anyway, offering support to parishes in the ministries we already had planned:

  • Environment and global responsibility;
  • Poverty and dignity;
  • Modern slavery and human trafficking;
  • Refugees and asylum seekers;
  • Tackling social isolation.

These five crises will only become more acute as we emerge from lockdown. What will change qualitatively, however, is our sixth ministry ‘Building communities of missionary disciples’. And for that task we can turn for guidance to Pope Francis.

In a remarkable interview Pope Francis draws attention to three opportunities buried deep in this pandemic: to build ‘an economy that is less liquid, more human’, to ‘move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it’, to ‘“see” the poor’ and, in so doing, to restore their humanity.

Implicit in all his meditations on the pandemic is a challenge to the Caritas family: to recognise this time as a kairos moment. We have an opportunity for systemic change – and a duty to honour the rising public mood of repentance and longing for renewal. How shall we be true to that call?

This blog post was first published by Caritas Europa.

Blogs for Lent 2020: Care in an Ageing Society – St Antony’s Centre


A witness of hope

By Kevin Flanagan, Founder & Director of St. Antony’s Centre for Church & Industry, Manchester (CSAN member charity)

Little did I think life would change so dramatically in a few weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world!  While no one is exempt from its ravages, it is clear the older you are, the greater the risk you face from the infection itself.  The Government has asked us to work from home and those aged over 70 to self-isolate even more strictly.

The very nature of our humanity as social beings is being restricted, for a limited period we hope, in order to achieve a greater good, the protection of the vulnerable and all of us from the ravages of this organism. A tiny organism that is sadly taking many lives, feeding fears & anxieties, sapping hopes, and threatening the very foundation of our global economy. It has changed dramatically how we interact with each other; in our family, streets and across communities at home and globally.

I am soon to become a ‘pensioner’ as I reach State Pension Age, but thankfully my mind and heart feel young. I took advice in the 1980s to ‘opt out’, only to find when the previous pension scandal struck, I was placed back in the state pension. Now, my state pension will be reduced weekly, based on a valuation of what my private pension should be worth, but clearly isn’t. World markets have plummeted and the value of pension pots is falling yet again: this will have waves of impact in the years to come as private pension income values are reduced and the hoped-for security in retirement is further eroded. Pensioner poverty will continue to grow even more, as will the necessity for people to work longer during their ‘retirement’ years in sickness or in health, in order to survive.

I live on my own, following the death of my wife Liz three years ago. I have experienced the sense of loneliness and loss. It’s not a comfortable place for social beings to be in. I’m blessed with a loving family and friends, yet many people don’t; in the face of Covid-19 their isolation is now greater as movement outside the home is restricted and they are separated from loved ones. 

At St. Antony’s Centre for Church and Industry, like many organisations in the Caritas network, our phones have been very busy with people seeking assistance. A lady in her 70s, working as a cleaner in a hospital to supplement her pension, now torn between following self-isolation instructions by the Government and her desire to serve at a time of need, asks, ‘Should I self-isolate and will I lose my pay?’

We support the Blackpool Centre for Unemployed in winning thousands of pounds on appeal for those refused benefits, transforming despair to hope.

To assist people quickly to get the guidance and help they need, St. Antony’s Centre is shifting from face-to-face working and training, to converting our social communications systems to share expertise and knowledge on employment rights and welfare support. The development of new online tutorials, advice sheets and blogs to help those unfamiliar with digital communications tools to improve their ability to keep in touch with family members. For those struggling in the world of work, made redundant or self-employed, our advice sessions now take place by phone, helping people where possible to stay employed. We have seen a rise in those facing redundancy or laid off unpaid.  

Our Spirituality Project, Life to the Full, providing that essential spirit of joy and reflection rooted in Ignatian spirituality in people’s lives, is now running through private consultations held via live video links.

Charities and welfare agencies across the Caritas network in England and Wales face uncertainty as they have to weave a cloth of love, care and service, rooted in the Gospel, on a new loom still in the making. The real challenges of providing personal care to many, while protecting our employees as carers, is a delicate balancing act. Charities in the front line need additional help now so they can respond quickly to the thousands impacted daily by this crisis. We see the wafer thin membrane of survival and despair melting, as people experience a loss of control and exclusion. People look to CSAN’s member charities for an authentic witness as the “Church of the Poor”, the face of Christ and true hope reflected through our services with them, a service of joy singing with deep love above the crisis of gloom.

St Antony’s Centre for Church & Industry was established in 1979 to reflect Catholic social thinking in action, in the world of work and wider community.

This article was first published in The Catholic Times. Any views expressed belong to the author.

Blogs for Lent 2020: Care in an Ageing Society – Caritas Brentwood


Ageing and care in a Covid-19 world

By Steven Webb, Director of Development, Diocese of Brentwood, with Jenny Clayton, Membership Development Officer (Diocese of Brentwood), St Vincent de Paul Society (England and Wales)

As I write this article, the government has just announced that schools will shortly close as part of our concerted efforts to minimise the impact of COVID-19. Much will have changed by the time you are reading this article because that is the nature of the spread of the virus and our response to it.

However, some things do not ever change. God’s love for us is constant and abundant. Hopefully our love for one another is similarly constant and abundant. The events that we are living through now afford each and every one of us an opportunity to put that love into practical effect.

Like most dioceses Brentwood is blessed to have an active SVP. The St Vincent De Paul Society has been putting love of neighbour into practical effect for nearly 200 years. Today it uses the strap line “Turning Concern Into Action” and nearly 10,000 members across England and Wales do exactly that again and again.

Caring for elderly people is a key part of how we can demonstrate our love for our neighbours and never more so than in the difficult circumstances we are all experiencing right now.

As each of us looks out of our windows we know that there are people out there who might be lonely, might not be able to get to the shops, perhaps they just need to talk to someone or perhaps they are finding it hard to contact a family member far away. Turning our concern for those people into action is not rocket science but sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start and in a time when safeguarding concerns are rightly high on the agenda it can be difficult to know if you are doing things the right way.

The beauty of having the SVP active in our diocese is that we do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to putting our concern for our neighbours into action. The SVP has been doing it for years and has contacts, protocols, and policies that will help people find a place to start and to ensure that safeguarding is done properly.

Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and being in self isolation could lead to more loneliness, practical problems and a greater need for a chat. Many of us consider what we are going through right now to be an unprecedented interruption to normal life but it is good for us to remember that for some of our elderly neighbours they have already spent several years of their lives in the turmoil and suffering of a World War.

Caritas Diocese of Brentwood operates on the basis of a light touch and if there is no need to reinvent the wheel, we do not. Having so many dedicated members of the SVP in our diocese is a blessing for us all and our thanks go out to them all. We would also urge more people to join them especially at this time so that even more people can put their love and their concerns for their neighbour into action.

We often hear the phrases; “it is better to give than to receive” and “you get so much more out than you put in”, and I think that is true.

Local SVP members told me, “Visiting the elderly is such a privilege and invariably they really enjoy the luxury of a one to one chat. Often their family are very busy with their modern high speed lives and also appreciate that we are there to “fill some of the gaps”. Very often the relationship with an elderly person becomes warm and trusting and before you know it they are old friends!” and “I really enjoy visiting the elderly and get as much back from it as they do, learning about different life experiences and I’m able to appreciate things differently. The elderly have so much to teach us. I especially enjoy vising with my young children as I get to see them through the beneficiary’s eyes and it makes me proud.”

So, as we all cope with a world that seems to have gone crazy we know that we can rely on the love of God, and that if we want to find a way to give practical effect to Christ’s commandment to love one another there are people like your local SVP who can help you to help your neighbour and especially the elderly who are self-isolating. After all, it is also said, “many hands make light work”.

This article was first published in The Catholic Times. Any views expressed are those of the authors.