A journey into Scientology

Currently much talked about and argued over in the media, Kenneth Eckerersley explains how he came t

I was born in 1927 and started my religious life in the Church of England, as a member of Sunday School and the choir. I joined the Cubs, then the Scouts and after serving in the Royal Navy, became a Scoutmaster. Work with the Old People’s Welfare Association and Road Safety Committee led to my joining the District Council and to later serving on the Magistrate’s Bench until my job moved me into Europe.

In 1950 I read the book: DIANETICS: The Modern Science of Mental Health, and was fascinated by the way in which that research related to the world around me, and how I could directly put it into practice in my life, to help myself and others. Later when Ron Hubbard’s discovery that man is basically good and is seeking to survive as a spiritual being led to the development of Scientology, it became clear to many of his students that his researches and writings were in fact in the field of religion. Hence the first Churches of Scientology were formed.

Insofar as this new religion validated man’s spiritual nature it also confirmed earlier beliefs, and I soon found myself with a circle of friends from a wide range of other religions who, like me, recognised that Scientology complemented the beliefs of people of goodwill and provided a common set of values, as well as being the religion of choice for many who earlier had professed no belief.

These values included beliefs held by all Scientologists as part of their Creed. The principles in that Creed have become personal certainties for me and I now hold them as an important part of my life.

Miracle-like experiences brought by Scientology to my brother and my wife I shall describe in a later post, but for myself the main results of my study of Hubbard’s works have been twofold

Firstly, I now have an unassailable good natured and cheerful certainty in myself. A quiet confidence that nothing can really trouble me for more than a short time because I know that I will quickly find a solution. I find that that certainty and self-confidence play themselves out in my life.

Secondly, because I personally feel at peace with myself, I am able to observe and give attention to the plight of our communities and the individuals within those communities, and this has resulted in a daily desire to help others in a wide variety of ways.

Sometimes the help is financial, but mainly it is hands on: making full use of the various skills I have learnt in Scientology. Helping addicts recover from drugs or alcohol. Helping the recently bereaved recover from their loss. Helping those in physical pain understand and overcome it. Helping those in fear or other painful emotion deal with it and recover. And what do you know? As I help others - with no real additional effort - my own life and quality of survival blossoms more and more as my friends increase in number and rise towards their own certainties.

In later posts I shall discuss Scientology and my family, the groups to which I belong, mankind, other life forms, the physical and spiritual universes, belief in a Supreme Being and why Scientology has been attacked.

Kenneth Eckersley is active in the Church of Scientology, and is a former Magistrate and Justice of the Peace.
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Be a glitch in our benefits system, and the punishment is to starve

Faceless bureaucrats are tipping claimants into hunger. 

So it’s official. If anyone still doubted that benefit sanctions are linked to food bank usage, a study by the University of Oxford and the Trussell Trust has found “a strong, dynamic relationship exists” between the number of sanctions in local authorities, and the number of adults receiving emergency food parcels.

The research examined the impact of tougher sanctions imposed by the Coalition government in 2012. For every extra 10 sanctions per 100,000 claimants, there were five more adults needing food. By contrast, when sanctions declined by 10, there were roughly 2 fewer instances of adults needing food. 

The study questioned whether a system that creates food poverty is “a fair penalty” for those who intentionally or inadvertently break the rules surrounding benefits payments.

Indeed, benefits sanctions can often, on appeal, seem brutal. Take the man who missed his Jobcentre appointment because he was in hospital after being hit by a car, or the woman who received her letter a day after the proposed meeting was scheduled. 

But what the study doesn’t chart is the number of people plunged into food poverty simply because of a bureaucratic mistake. A 2014 report by MPs, Feeding Britain, noted benefit-related “problems” was the single biggest reason given for food bank referrals. 

It found that many of these problems were avoidable: 

“We heard that one such problem arose as a result of Jobcentre Plus staff having to rely on two different computer systems, each on different screens, in order to calculate and process a claim, if more than one benefit was involved. This was likely to delay the processing of a benefit claim.”

In other words, the system we pay for with our taxes is failing us when we need it.

Claimants often find themselves at the bottom of an unaccountable power structure. Gill McCormack, who is the manager at the Glasgow North West food bank, has a son with Down’s Syndrome and brain damage, and lost her husband at just 21.

As an unusually young widow, she repeatedly has had to show benefits officials her husband’s death certificate, and fight for her son’s Disability Living Allowance. At one point, her benefits were stopped, and she lived on bags of frozen peas.

She told a fringe event at the SNP conference: “The amount of times I have been back and forth with this system – the only way I can describe it is as a ping pong table.”

If administration errors can leave people this hungry – and when I was a journalist at The Mirror I heard from readers about dozens of similar cases – we are heading for a world where large gaps in support are institutionalised.

Universal Credit, the new benefits system being rolled out across the country, only kicks in after six weeks. Claimants can apply for an advance. But if this is not properly communicated, six weeks is long enough to starve. 

As the study acknowledges, modern food poverty does not just exist in food banks, which are a very specific type of lifeline. The Facebook group Feed Yourself For £1 a Day has nearly 70,000 members. Some are simply frugal mums or house proud retirees. But many of those who post are desperate.

One reason is illness. A single mum, recently wrote that the group was a “lifeline” when she was coping with breast cancer: “I have never been so poor.” Another wrote back that after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she lost her home and her job, and was forced to spend 10 days living in her car.

Others are simply women going back to work, who lose their benefits and have to wait for wages. A mother in five wrote in asking for cheap meal ideas as “I’ve got £50 a week to live off as starting work”. 

So what is the answer to this kind of hidden hunger? The government is still consulting on a “Help to Save” scheme, that will provide more incentives for low-paid workers to create a rainy day fund. Groups such as Feed Yourself for £1 a Day should be encouraged, because they are valued by their members and teach families how to eat healthily for less. But shifting responsibility to those on the breadline only works so far. After all, you cannot easily save if you are an unpaid carer. You cannot cook from scratch if your gas meter has run out. And you can't keep to a budget if food prices, as predicted, start to rise.

The latest research into food banks should reignite the debate about sanctions. But it should also raise wider questions about those who administrate and enforce our taxpayer-funded welfare state, and how, in the 21st century, faceless officials can tip unfortunate people into something close to famine. 

Not recently, many commentators found it hard to believe the plotline of Ken Loach’s latest film, in which a man is denied disability benefits because of a computer glitch. Perhaps they're not to blame - after all, since Jobcentres are removing the free phones that would allow claimants to kick up a fuss, many are effectively silenced. But so long as the food banks stay open, there is more listening to be done. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.