The date of the next general election is set for 20 September and we must all start thinking about who we want to represent us at the highest levels.
For many an election is a tedious business and voter apathy abounds.
Fuelling this ennui may be a lack of knowledge of issues by which to judge the policies and performance of our leaders.
In this sense, Catholics are lucky for we have a perfect guide in the church’s social teaching backed up by the example of Jesus in the gospels. As Pope Francis says in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, ‘I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security’ (EG n.49).
Key issues ‘on the streets’ today are child poverty, a lack of affordable housing and inequality. What do these mean for us as voters? An important principle of Catholic social teaching is that of the common good. If we improve the living standards of the poorest among us, we boost everyone’s situation.
A revision in household income statistics makes little difference to the fact that a quarter of the country’s children live below the poverty line, that is, they are growing up in families whose income is insufficient for their needs. Taking account of a statistical margin of error of two or three percent, this percentage has almost doubled from 14 percent in 1982. The New Zealand Christian Council of Social Services says families are making hard choices about whether to pay the rent, the power bill or buy food.
The Greens claimed in a press release of 28 January that the government’s 2010 tax cuts for the top 10 percent of income earners, at around $1.1 billion, are costing 10 times as much as the Greens’ proposed child poverty reduction measures. If the Greens’ claim is correct, this is a clear example of why the gap between rich and poor in New Zealand has grown faster than in any other OECD country in the past 30 years.
A recent UMR research study found that ‘only a quarter (24 percent) of New Zealanders believe New Zealand is an egalitarian society, that 71 percent believe the gap between rich and poor in New Zealand is widening and 78 percent believe that the overall effects of the gap between rich and poor have been bad’ (umr.co.nz/sites/umr/files/final_inequality_mar-14_1.pdf).
Does this mean that a significant number of people are not being heard on the issue of inequality?
In preparation for the election, we could educate ourselves by reading and listening to those who work in the area of child poverty, the NZCCSS’s Whakatata Mai (Closer Together) is a good place to start, research the social policies of each party and ask, ‘who benefits?’