Here is a statement released today by seven Catholic agencies working for social justice in Ireland.
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As Catholic organisations working in the field of social justice, we come together to call for the protection of those who are struggling to maintain an acceptable standard of living in Ireland and throughout the world. Any further reduction in income, direct or indirect, will have serious consequences, threatening the wellbeing of the individuals and families concerned and damaging social cohesion, which is an essential foundation for lasting and sustainable economic recovery.
With each successive budget since the beginning of the current crisis, many of those we work with have seen a steady erosion of the supports that should be available to protect them from poverty and enable them to provide for themselves and their families. Falling levels of income, combined with cuts in health, education and social services and the imposition of new charges, are having a deeply damaging effect on the ability of people to care for themselves and others. The cumulative impact of these factors is both widening and deepening social exclusion, with a consequent rise in inequality.
We wish to re-state our concern, on the basis of our collective experience, that decisions in social and economic policy in recent years have led to increased poverty, social exclusion and fragmentation within Irish society, giving rise to a culture of blame. This situation can blind us to the reality that true economic recovery will not be achieved through individualistic responses, nor through the protection of certain sectors of society to the exclusion of others.
In a May 2013 address, Pope Francis warned that: ‘We have forgotten and are still forgetting that over and above business, logic and the parameters of the market is the human being.’ Respecting the human dignity of every man and woman means ‘to offer them the possibility of living a dignified life and of actively participating in the common good.’ In this context, Pope Francis has called for an urgent ‘rethinking’ of the implications of solidarity, with a view to addressing poverty through reforms that place the value and rights of the human person above ‘power, profit and money’ (Address of Pope Francis to the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation, 25 May 2013).
These sentiments were echoed in the statement of the Irish Catholic Bishops ahead of the June 2013 G8 summit, which underlined the need for the value of solidarity ‘to be the guiding principle in decisions currently facing world leaders’. The bishops argued that ‘against the backdrop of the widespread suffering caused by poverty, inequality and social exclusion, solidarity is needed to rebuild trust, restore relationships and give hope for a real and lasting recovery’ (www.catholicbishops.ie).
The essential starting point must be to prioritise those measures which will have greatest social benefit by addressing the situation of those in most severe need. The declining living standards of people on low incomes need to be addressed. We cannot afford to ignore the implications of increases in the price of essentials, such as food and fuel, and the impact of new charges, on those individuals and families dependent on social welfare payments or the minimum wage. The sense of helplessness experienced by many in these circumstances can lead to feelings of isolation and alienation from society, with damaging implications for the future. Child poverty is particularly costly, in both human and economic terms, and needs to be addressed through the retention of universal Child Benefit, combined with targeted supports to meet the particular needs of low-income families.
Ireland’s Overseas Development Aid (ODA) programme continues to have a significant impact on the lives of some the world’s poorest communities, but in recent years our commitment to the provision of this vital lifeline has weakened. Solidarity demands that we reverse this trend by increasing the level of ODA to 0.5%, recommitting ourselves to the target of 0.7% and providing a multi-annual financial framework, which would allow for more effective planning and give greater security to aid recipients.
By prioritising solidarity in Budget 2014 our elected representatives would give some hope to those who are suffering as a result of poverty and social exclusion. This Budget is an opportunity to reverse the growing social fragmentation of recent years by rebuilding relationships on the basis of trust and mutual support.
As a minimum, we, the undersigned, are highlighting the need to:
– Acknowledge and address the impact of inflation and new charges on those dependent on social welfare payments or the minimum wage;
– Protect and support families through the retention of universal Child Benefit, together with targeted supports for low-income families;
– Return to the level of 0.5% GDP in Overseas Development Aid, supported by a multi-annual financing commitment which would allow for more effective planning and give greater security to aid recipients.