These days as the time for electing our country’s leaders approaches, inequality is very much on our minds.
This morning I opened my morning paper ( The Dominion PostSeptember 3, 2008) to find a story about families needing to borrow money to eke out their budgets until payday. These people were forced to borrow from ‘loan sharks’ at interest rates as high as eight percent a week.
The story cited the case of a law student who borrowed $300 for 14 weeks for research. At the end of the period the total amount owing had more than doubled to $636. This would bring the annual interest rate to 416 percent.
This is just one example of the spiral of poverty in action. The Dominion Post story cited another example of a $50 loan growing to $90 over 10 weeks. One commentator said, ‘If you don’t have 100 bucks to pay the bills this week, you are not going to have 100 bucks to pay them next week.’
Anecdotal accounts of foodbank use cited in the story on the front page of Wel-com this month suggest this has increased from 20 percent to 70 percent this year. Much of this would be attributable to the rise in fuel and food prices which is largely out of the government’s control.
But, as economist, Brian Easton, points out, the government could do something to boost people’s incomes to better cope with price rises.
Beneficiaries have not effectively had a boost to their benefits for 16 years and, as social commentator, Anne Else, suggests, it is much harder to live on a benefit today than it was when John Key’s mother reared her three sons on a widow’s benefit in the early 1970s.
This month we focus on social justice, based on Catholic social teaching, which calls us to strive for the good of all.
Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Rerum Novarum from 1891, inspired by the Industrial Revolution, was often called the Magna Charta of Social Catholicism but it is also given the name On the Condition of the Working Class.
Leo refers to Aquinas’ teaching on private property which insisted on its social nature so that after one’s own or one’s family’s needs were met according to one’s life situation, the remainder must be given to the poor.
It is this redistribution of resources which underpins Catholic social teaching often referred to as the common good, recognising that we are all equal in the sight of God.
In New Zealand we rely on the government to look after this redistribution for us—taking from the rich through taxes and other means so that the needs of the poor can be met thus creating equality and serving the common good.
As Catholics we have a duty to ensure that those we elect to care for this redistribution of income are people for whom the service of the common good is also their primary goal.
As Pope Benedict XVI says in Spe Salvi, ‘The love of God is revealed in responsibility for others.’