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Archbishop's Big Questions Interview in The Independent

Archbishop of York

Saturday 28th July 2012

The Archbishop expresses his views about the Olympic Games; the importance of volunteering; and the need for a greater sense of public ethics, duty and responsibility in all that we do. He also reflects on milk prices and the easing of sanctions in Zimbabwe. His interview with The Independent follows in full....

Is it desirable (or even possible) measure happiness?

When I was growing up in Uganda, we didn’t have much money and we had a big family, but we were always a happy family. Our parents always had time for us and told us stories, and we always ate together as a family. We also had a strong sense of community.

We have a saying in Africa that it takes a whole village to raise a child – that sense that no-one is living in isolation and we all have a role to play, a duty and responsibility to each other. I think at times that is what we have lost sight of in modern life; we are all living busier lives and trying to do stuff on our own. It’s no wonder there is such unhappiness, especially when we are going through a deep recession with people losing their jobs.

We need to look out for our neighbour and pull together in the same direction. You don’t need to measure happiness, you can see it in the health of a society. How? By the way it treats the vulnerable, older people and children.

Is it "morally wrong" to pay cash in hand to a cleaner or tradesman?

It’s not morally wrong to be paid in cash, it’s simply immoral to not pay your dues through the tax system.

When we see some millionaires evade paying tax by hiding their money off-shore, you have to wonder why it is those at the bottom who get picked on for bad practises!

In some companies in the UK, the Chief Executives are paid 300 times what the lowest person in that business is paid. Can that be right? Is that a system that will make people feel valued?

Research shows that a more equal society, is not only a fairer society, it is also a happier society. That’s one of the reasons why I back a national Living Wage.

Are the Olympic Games a waste of public money?

No. I think it’s fantastic that we can celebrate the fantastic sporting talent we have in this country and welcome the best athletes from across the world to compete on the biggest stage. We should celebrate our Team GB   with pride, there is nothing wrong with that – we saw during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee the fantastic lift it gave this country.

Also the regeneration in some of the poorest areas we have, such as the East End of London, will make a difference for future generations. There is a real sense of hope and we need to nurture those dreams and aspirations of our young people, rather than pouring cold water on them.

Are we now two nations - London and the rest of the country?

 We are four nations united under one Sovereign – Her Majesty The Queen. But there is great disparity. Look at the recent unemployment figures – it is clearly good news that overall unemployment dropped over the last quarter, however we should not forget that those same figures showed an increase of 100,000 people in the North of England out of work. It’s even worse when you look at youth unemployment in some of our most deprived areas. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, in the UK is one of the new giants of inequality that needs tackling urgently. We should be concerned when a whole section of society is written off. We need to invest in people and give them the opportunities to flourish no matter where they live.

Would it be a bad thing if the Church of England were disestablished?

It would be a very bad thing. I don’t think that we always appreciate as a society the role that the Church of England plays in being there for us all. Being the spiritual glue that cements the social fabric of our society. It’s not just about the important role that Bishops play in the House of Lords or on state occasions, the Church of England has a far wider role than that.

Did you know that more people volunteer for church organisations than any other organisation or group in the country? Up and down the country the Church of England is present in every community, in the North and in the South, in rural and urban settings, everywhere – it has a unique role to play in maintaining and promoting community.

It’s not just about tradition, it’s about recognising that even on a basic societal level the Church of England by Law Established is looking out for those in need. As Archbishop William Temple once said, the Church is the only organisation that exists for the wellbeing of its non-members.

Her Majesty The Queen said to an inter-faith reception at Lambeth Palace marking her Diamond Jubilee: “Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves. The Church of England certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for the other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.”

Should it concern us that the next US president could be a Mormon (Mitt Romney coming to the UK this week)?

I think that people should be free to express their faith in public life. It’s not something we should be afraid of. Tony Blair said recently that when he was Prime Minister he was afraid of talking about his faith because of the way he might be perceived. I think faith shouldn’t be a bar to public life, it should be respected and celebrated. We should be debating the issues, rather than the personalities.

Do all our public institutions need a Leveson-style inquiry?

No. What we need is for a greater sense of public ethics, duty and responsibility in the work we are doing. Leveson revealed that as a society we are becoming more and more celebrity driven. It’s not just the newspapers who are responsible – although clearly they must share much of the blame – this unquenchable thirst for gossip and revelation at all cost is being propelled by the people who buy the newspapers. We too have a responsibility to engage with the process and say, actually, invasion of privacy is unacceptable.

We need to have confidence in those running public institutions, I think on the whole our public civil servants do a good job. It’s our elected representatives who are democratically responsible for public institutions, if we aren’t happy then we can express that at the ballot box.

Is it immoral to sell milk at below the cost of production?

Absolutely. Again it is driven by demand. As a consumer each one of us should say this is unacceptable. People should get a fair wage for a fair day’s work.

How can it be right that a bottle of coke or mineral water is more expensive than a bottle of milk? We are not valuing our farmers’ contribution to society and the economy correctly.

I think we should have a Fairtrade mark for British goods, so we know the producer has been paid a fair wage. We shouldn’t just be fighting for fairness overseas, we should demand it at home too.

Supermarkets and the milk processors are short changing our farmers, paying derisory amounts. Yes, times are tough for everyone, but that doesn’t mean we survive by exploiting the next person – we need to have a decent standard of living for everyone. Hence my plea for a Living Wage.

Is it right to expect young people to work for nothing under government-sponsored workfare schemes?

No, Workfare is exploitative, unfair and deeply harmful to young people trying to find a job. We campaigned long and hard for a minimum wage in this country, and personally I think we should pay a Living Wage. We need to value other people and the contribution they make. You can’t ask for someone to work for free on the hope that they may get a job further down the line. We should be paying fair wages for a fair day’s work regardless of age. Otherwise all we are doing is telling young people they aren’t important and risking knocking them out of the job market at the earliest stage possible.

Should sanctions be eased on Zimbabwe?

We cannot allow Robert Mugabe off the hook. When I cut up my clerical collar, I said I would not put it on again until Mr Mugabe had gone from office – we need to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe and not forget the abuses and exploitation they have suffered at the hands of that administration.

What we need to see is justice and transformation for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe – the farmers and the workers – we owe them too much to give up now. 

His regime has survived in the past three years due to the discovery of a huge diamond deposit. It is being mined mercilessly to prop up the regime – those diamonds are Blood Diamonds.

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