WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Editorial: Inequality not gospel


Cecily McNeill

August 2013

A new book Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, which features on the centre pages of this newspaper, tells of how far and fast the country has moved from honouring the dignity of the person in the interests of the common good.

A chilling account of the circumstances in which a baby died in 2011 would signify how low we can go as a nation in failing to care for the most vulnerable in this age of rampant inequality.

‘The constable said the two bedroom weatherboard house was in very poor condition… The chimney in the lounge was not attached to a fireplace, instead, it rested in a bucket. The area around the chimney by the ceiling was leaking, the water was running down the chimney and onto the two-seater couch … The toilet bowl was sitting on the floor of the bathroom … not connected to any sewerage pipes … French doors to the lounge did not close securely and rain leaked onto the floorboards. The night the baby died the family … slept on foam mattresses on the lounge floor because the uncarpeted bedroom was freezing. The home was generally tidy and clutter-free, with benches wiped down and clothing folded.’ www.stuff.co.nz/national/8839639/Horror-living-conditions-in-cot-death-house

New Zealand has the fastest growing gap between rich and poor in the developed world. How did we move so far from the egalitarian ideals that saw the establishment of the Welfare State less than 80 years ago?

Political economy professor at the London School of Economics Robert Wade suggests the ideological emphasis on individual rights is one factor.

If this is so, we Catholics must get to work to promote the gospel message of caring for ‘the least of my brethren’. While some are struggling, the whole of society is impaired.

As a member of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, Archbishop John Dew signed up two years ago to Closer Together Whakatata Mai, set up to address growing inequality.

He wrote in Wel-Com at the time: ‘This project encourages us all to live the gospel and to be aware of those in need in New Zealand today: families in poverty or unsafe housing, victims and perpetrators of domestic violence that is often linked to poverty; the many referrals to food banks for those who just cannot make ends meet. It also reminds us that we need to be advocates who work to change a system, especially income inequality, which keeps people in poverty.’

A good parish activity could be to join Closer Together Whakatata Mai and research issues of poverty in the community. Knowing the issues is a first step. Discuss your findings in the group and see what action suggests itself, and read the book.