Britain lies under a white blanket of snow. Children play while adults moan about un-gritted roads and delays at airports.
But the heavy snow – beautiful and pure as it is – highlights a filthy stain on the capitalist system that dominates Britain.
For the vulnerable – in particular the elderly and the homeless – this cold weather can be a matter of life and death
The Elder Generation
According to the charity Age UK thousands of older people (some estimates suggest over 26000) die prematurely every year due to the health effects of living in the cold. Sadly, the costs are usually expressed in financial terms rather than the human or moral value. In Britain almost half of elderly people live alone, left to face these issues on their own.
Homelessness has jumped in the UK in the past year, such that almost 50,000 households across England are homeless – including almost 70 000 children.
Most of these people live in temporary accommodation. Estimates of those who sleep on the streets can be hard to quantify. They reach up to 5000 people a year – and around 2000 people on any one night face freezing in the bitter cold.
The causes are many – financial hardship, as repossession rates and unemployment have risen – as well as mental health, family breakdown, drug and alcohol problems.
Solutions, as they are, address symptoms, not causes. All too often they revolve around meager state funding, relying on charities. But is it right that in a wealthy society such matters rely on the non-governmental sector. How can they, for example, deal with the fact that heating oil costs have pushed up to 1.5m older people into fuel poverty?
The winter fuel payment of between £100 and £300 pounds a year from the state does not prove enough for the many who die in the cold every year. Similarly, homeless charities have been given £3.6m to tackle rough sleeping – but these initiatives have failed to solve the problems.
Moreover, they are peanuts in comparison to the obscene amount (over £9 bn) spent on the 2012 Olympic games – which 20% of the population considered an extravagance – never mind the £1.2 Trillion (80% of total UK GDP) used to bail out the banks.
They also do not tackle the politically driven attitudes that lump a small number of fraudulent benefit claims with large numbers of poor people, accusing them of ‘sponging and scrounging’. In some areas, local councils have even looked at making begging a criminal offence – which speaks volumes about how the state ‘solves’ social problems.
Islam’s Values and Solutions
Islam’s radically different view of society offers an alternative to the cruel capitalist way.
Firstly – attitudes to the elderly and the homeless are vastly different.
The elderly, far from being the brunt of jokes, are respected. The Prophet peace be upon him said”Anyone who does not show mercy to our children nor acknowledge the right of our old people is not one of us.” [Bukhari].
The homeless, far from being seen as a burden, are considered those deprived of a fundamental right. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said “There is no right for the son of Adam except in these things: a house in which he lives, a garment to cover his nakedness, a piece of bread and water.” [Tirmidhi]
Secondly – the individualism, atomisation of society and balkanisation of the family that plagues Western society is not a feature of an Islamic society. Family networks are strong, and there is an expectation that anyone with surplus wealth should support his dependents. The Prophet peace be upon him said “The best charity is that which you give when you are rich, and you should support your dependants first.” [Bukhari]
Beyond this, communities are stronger. The Prophet peace be upon him said “A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry.‘ [Bukhari]
Thirdly – The duty of government in Islam is to secure these values. The blight of drugs and alcohol is criminalised. The aim of the Islamic economic system is to ensure that each citizen has his or her basic standard of living secured – food, a home and clothing .The law obliges a Muslim with surplus wealth to support a dependent relative if he does not so willingly. Those who have no family that can afford to do this are provided for by the state. Fuel providers are not private profit-making bodies but in public ownership – meaning all citizens share in the energy wealth of the state. The Prophet peace be upon him said: “The people are partners in three things: water, green pastures and fire (fuels)” [Abu Dawud].
Islam set the values for personal behaviour and gave a system under the Sharia to secure those values in place. Individuals do what they can, but the Islamic government is responsible for implementing these values wherever necessary: preventing problems, sharing resources and circulating wealth. That is the mark of a civilized system and something today’s world is sorely in need of – not one where material greed is the highest value in society.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed firstname.lastname@example.org