Mary and Joseph: How a homeless refugee family fits right in to modern Britain

A homeless man thumbs through his copy of the Rights Guide for Rough Sleepers, just a few hundred metres away from the Houses of Parliament in central London.Christian Today

It's an uncomfortable irony that the Christmas season should have descended into the mire of consumerism and commerce when at its heart the story centres on a poor family of lower class and humble means.

One of the defining factors of 2015 has been the government's assault on the poor and working class. For all of David Cameron's words about Britain being a Christian country founded on Christian values, one wonders how Jesus, Mary and Joseph would fare as members of his Big Society.

Let's imagine for a moment. As a young mother, apparently pregnant out of wedlock, Mary would feel some of the greatest impact of the 'austerity' that has seen my own local council's budget cut by 41 per cent.

Alongside the general stigma that comes with teenage pregnancy, with localised specialist support such as the Family Nurse Partnership hanging in the balance a modern Mary may not find the support needed during one of the most tumultuous periods of life for any woman. Perhaps even she would be seen on TV, tearfully accosting politicians threatening to cut her tax credits.

When there was no room at the inn, Mary and Joseph had to sleep rough in an animal's stable. As undesirable as that thought is now, it's actually better than some of the options available to rough sleepers in 21st century Britain. As local authorities quietly implement "defensive architecture" to chase away the homeless and already vulnerable, Mary and Joseph would have a hard time finding somewhere to rest between the 'homeless spikes' in doorways and park benches designed to no longer be slept on.

The likelihood of a young couple like Mary and Joseph being homeless is real. The exorbitant gap between the average salary and average house price, rising private rent costs, fast-disappearing social housing, the bedroom tax and benefit cuts mean that since the government came to power in 2010, the number of households applying for homelessness assistance has increased by 26 per cent.

When a tyrant king began a massacre of baby boys, Mary, Joseph and an infant Jesus became refugees. Fleeing to Egypt, the Holy Family found refuge until they could return to their homeland after King Herod's death. But in a modern world, where would be so welcoming? Politicians court the far right in their rhetoric on refugees while simultaneously planning air raids that contribute to the conflict that many of them are fleeing. Our Home Secretary seeks to redefine words in order to limit who is deemed "worthy" of asylum, while suggesting scrapping the Human Rights bill put in place in part to protect asylum seekers.

It's not far fetched to suggest that a modern Mary and Joseph could be one of the desperate families stuck in limbo at Calais, or at any other European refugee camp, cradling a distraught infant Jesus wrapped in foil to stave off hypothermia.

In fact, the Bible commands us to see our Saviour in the faces of the most vulnerable in our society, Jesus said "inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:31-40).

A key feature of the Christmas season is the increase in advertising and appeals by charities hoping that the distant sound of seasonal bells jingling would make us all dig deeper into our pockets. While our acts of giving are no doubt commendable, charity alone is not a sustainable way for anyone to live. It is fantastic that local churches are filling a need by acting as food distribution points and foodbanks, but the fact that foodbank usage is steadily increasing year on year in the UK is a heartbreaking sign that something is seriously wrong with things as they stand.

A year-end bump in donations to charities and food banks is a nice act of seasonal goodwill, but what the poor and vulnerable members of our society need is the peace that comes with stability. If David Cameron truly cares about the Christian values that this country was built on, let us hope that a healthy and well-funded public sector is one of his New Year's Resolutions. That's the kind of peace and goodwill that will last through the Christmas season, into the New Year and beyond.

That's the kind of thing that a baby born in a manger to poor parents would be proud of.

Jendella is a writer, photographer and filmmaker based in London. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and has also been exhibited internationally. She can be found on Twitter – @JENDELLA – and also at