Some of the indicators produced by the report included:
- UK child poverty has doubled since 1979
- Children living in homes earning less than half national average wage - 16%
- Children rating their peers as "kind and helpful" - 43%
- Families eating a meal together "several times" a week - 65%
- Children who admit being drunk on two or more occasions - 30%
Of course we all know that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics - but we would be foolish to dismiss findings like these. I think we all know that life in the UK is hard for our youngsters.
So what's to be done? And the question for me is, crucially, what part does Christianity have to play. My guts tell me that it is more than a co-incidence that we have seen a rise in problems for young people at the exact same time when we have seen a decline in church membership.
Churches can't provide all the answers of course...but there are some essential tenents of Christian life that - if society as a whole could only embrace them - would undoubtedly have a positive effect on this disturbing trend. These include:
a) A fundamental commitment to community. Christians are called to be the body of Christ - bearing with each other, forgiving one another, working together for the common good. How very different that is from the contemporary drive for personal success, personal goals, and personal wealth.
b) A society in which the rich help the poor. When Jesus called on Zaccheaus to come down from his tree, Zaccheaus' response was to call Jesus Lord...and then set about selling half his stuff to give to the poor. Jesus response? "Today, salvation has come to this house". Divesting ourselves of excess wealth, and giving it to those who have nothing is a radical alternative to today's natural assumption that we should make, and keep, all we can for ourselves.
c) A fundamental commitment to family - as the bedrock of society. Fractured families lead, more often than not, to fractured children. And those who, by not belonging to a church, cut themselves off from the support for family life that the church (at its best) can offer take a great risk.
d) A commitment to moderation - especially in the area of alcohol. I enjoy a pint as much as the next man...and will continue to do so. I'm no signer of 'the pledge' - although sometimes, when I have sat through the night in YMCA hostels with yet another drunken teenager, I can sympathise with those who do want to ban the stuff. Banning it is not the answer though (look what happened during 'Prohibition' in the USA). Instead, we need to do more to tell our young people that there is a better way, a way to fullness of life with our kidney and liver damage...and his name is Jesus.
The church can't solve society's problems. But it does have some of the answers. I want to suggest that a society that has stopped listening to the accumulated wisdom of a 2000 year old institution, founded by an exceptionally wise man, (who, we believe, was also the Son of God by the way!) is going to struggle to find answers to what ails it.