Bishops: The Cost of Living Crisis calls on all of us to lobby against poverty
· Budget 2023 does not deal with the underlying growth in the levels of poverty and the increasing gap between rich and poor
At their Autumn General Meeting take took place this week in Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth, Bishops discussed the ever-increasing financial challenges facing families and individuals throughout Ireland, especially the poor and vulnerable, in the face of the continuing cost of living crisis.
Bishops said, “A combination of economic pressures have resulted in an unacceptable level of social deprivation and hardship which, if not dealt with equitably by those who have public responsibility, will threaten social cohesion and undermine the common good. All of us – public representatives, parishioners and local Church leaders – have a duty to come together in solidarity with those who are suffering to show our concern in practical ways.
“In pursuit of the Gospel mandate to love God and our neighbour, Catholics also have a responsibility to continue to lobby those in authority to ensure that their policies and actions do not widen the gap between rich and poor, thereby leaving poor people further behind.
“We welcome last week’s statement by the Northern Catholic Bishops on the current economic crisis, but note that many of the concerns raised, in particular the dramatic increase in the cost of food and energy, are common to the whole island. So too are the serious concerns regarding the levels of child poverty across all of Ireland. As noted by the Northern Bishops, one-in-four children in the North are living in poverty (one the highest levels of child poverty in Europe). In the Republic, we acknowledge with concern the recent finding by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul that over 200,000 children are living in enforced deprivation and that 70% of calls to that organisation comes from households with children.
“This is further backed-up by recent research* from our marriage care service, Accord, highlighting that 81% of couples surveyed report that money-related problems are the greatest cause of family and relationship pressure.
“It is also a very difficult time for small and medium-sized businesses, who provide the very backbone of local economies. Public policy supports should continue to target directly such businesses in order to mitigate the financial crisis that they are now facing.”
Bishops noted that while some measures introduced by the Government in its Budget 2023 will address aspects of the cost of living and energy crisis in the short-term, the budget does not deal with the underlying growth in the levels poverty in our society and the increasing gap between rich and poor. One-off payments, while welcome, are only a temporary solution and will not stop people on lowest incomes from falling further down the ladder. Longer-term embedded poverty can only be addressed by changing the way in which we make decisions and for whom. Bishops stressed that decisions made relating to the addressing the cost of living should be based on honouring the human dignity of every person; upholding the common good; and, our collective duty to show genuine solidarity with those who need help. Solutions need to be targeted and focused on addressing systemic issues that engender poverty such as lack of housing, insufficient education supports, underemployment, and youth unemployment.
These systemic failures were highlighted again in recent days through figures from the Department of Housing reporting that in August some 10,805 people were accessing emergency accommodation, including 3,220 children. This continuing crisis cannot be ignored by politicians, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the rights of every person to appropriate housing is respected, protected and advanced. As the Bishops stated in 2018 in their Pastoral Letter on Housing and Homelessness A Room at the Inn?, the State has an obligation ‘to ensure that those who cannot afford housing from their own resources will have their housing needs met, and to ensure that such publicly-provided housing is affordable, secure, and of adequate standard, defined not as some minimal level of provision, but in a way that takes account of the prevailing standards of housing in society as a whole.’
Welcoming the initiatives by parishes, religious and others across the country to help alleviate the hardships so many are people experiencing, the Bishops’ Conference, reiterated the call of the Northern Bishops last week, in asking all parishes to be alert for those who are most impacted by the current emergency. Furthermore, bishops ask all parish communities to follow the example of Jesus himself and put the poorest and most vulnerable among us at the forefront of their action. Charities such as the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul urgently need new volunteers and additional resources to cope with the increasing demands on their services.
Bishops ask Parish Pastoral Councils to consider what they can do in practical terms to help in forging a faith-based response to this urgent crisis, stating, “Above all, at a personal level, let us all be open to hearing and responding to ‘the cry of the poor’ (Ps 34) in our midst, locally and globally.”
Bishops commended to parish communities the following “pact”, that was signed in Assisi on 24 September last, by Pope Francis and young entrepreneurs, economists and others from around the world, and they ask that it be reflected upon in prayer and action:
We, young economists, entrepreneurs, and changemakers, called here to Assisi from every part of the world, aware of the responsibility that rests on our generation, commit ourselves today, individually and all collectively to spending our lives so that the economy of today and tomorrow becomes an economy of the Gospel, and therefore:
- an economy of peace and not of war;
- an economy that opposes the proliferation of arms, especially the most destructive;
- an economy that cares for creation and does not misuse it;
- an economy at the service of the human person, the family and life, respectful of every woman, man, and child, the elderly, and especially those most frail and vulnerable;
- an economy where care replaces rejection and indifference;
- an economy that leaves no one behind, in order to build a society in which the stones rejected by the dominant mentality become cornerstones;
- an economy that recognizes and protects secure and dignified work for everyone;
- an economy where finance is a friend and ally of the real economy and of labour and not against them;
- an economy that values and safeguards the cultures and traditions of peoples, all living things and the natural resources of the Earth;
- an economy that fights poverty in all its forms, reduces inequality and knows how to say with Jesus and St Francis, “Blessed are the poor;”
- an economy guided by an ethics of the human person and open to transcendence;
- an economy that creates wealth for all, that engenders joy and not just riches, because happiness that is not shared is incomplete.
We believe in this economy.
It is not a utopia, because we are already building it. And some of us, on particularly bright mornings, have already glimpsed the beginning of the promised land.