26 September 2013


While governments of developed countries implemented austerity budgets to counter the economic slump in 2008, the number of individuals in the world with more than one million US dollars of free cash surged, according to London School of Economics professor Robert Wade.

In the previous 30 years the top one percent of Americans ‘gained 57 percent of the increase in national income’ and, in the seven years to 2007, they gained 93 percent of the increase.

In Britain the story is similar. The chief executives of 100 of the country’s largest companies earned around 40 percent more in 2010 – 145 times the median wage – despite almost zero GDP growth.

Such a concentration of income, says Wade, gives financial firms ‘the leverage to colonise the governments of nation states and shape public policy … nowhere more so than in the US and the UK which house the major international financial centres’.

Meanwhile in the 2000s, high-income households in America have paid their lowest share of federal taxes in decades ‘and corporations frequently avoid paying any tax at all’.

This is because most of their income is classed as capital gains ‘three-quarters of which goes to the top 1 percent of income earners’. The tax on capital gains is the lowest it has been since the 1920s.

There is an ideological acceptance of a conservative but widely held view, particularly since 2008, that governments exist to ‘encourage largely free, private markets’ accepting the income distribution that results.

Even people who are never likely to benefit have accepted unquestioningly the ‘non-negotiable’ values such as freedom, individual initiative, personal responsibility, the level playing field, private property, democracy.

But because of this way of thinking, the question of ‘when are the rich too rich?’ has not prompted the research and debate which would put the issue of inequality centre stage.

Many of us are much more comfortable worrying about “poverty” than “inequality”, because the former is about helping others, while the latter comes close to questions about the appropriateness of the income of themselves and their peers. In other words whilst we can embrace the idea of charity - sharing from our surplus - we are reluctant to address the structures that create inequality as this might pose a threat to our own privileged status. An issue highlighted by Brazilian bishop Helder Camara in his often quoted statement "when I feed the poor they call me a saint, when I ask why they are poor they call me a communist".


In a reference to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference's annual social justice statement 'Lazarus at our Gate' issued ahead of Social Justice Sunday on Sep 29th, executive officer of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, John Ferguson, has described the newly elected Australian government's plan to cut back $4.5 billion dollars from the aid budget, as being like a rich man chasing a beggar to recover crumbs from his table, and unworthy of a civilised nation.

The Bishop's statement issued ahead of Social Justice Sunday on Sep 29th, said it was a critical time in the fight against world poverty.

According to Bishop Christopher Saunders, chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, 'Our nation has a historic opportunity to be a force for peace and generosity. This is the time for a recommitment to eradicating extreme poverty. Australia is a rich country whose economy is healthy by comparison with most others in the world. The government's proposal to cut $4.5 billion from the forward estimates for foreign aid represents a serious departure from Australia's commitment.'

What are we to say to those in extreme poverty who lie like Lazarus at our gate?'' he added.

The Catholic bishops said aid should focus on five priorities: the world's hungriest, those vulnerable to natural disasters, the indigenous, the disabled and those dislocated by conflict.

The bishops said that extreme poverty had been halved since 1990, from 47 per cent of humanity to 24 per cent by 2008, and about 14,000 lives a day had been saved by aid and development in this time.

The full text of the statement can be viewed at the website of the Australian Catholic Bishops.


Due to international exposure, child and forced labour is less prevalent in the fashion industry than twenty years ago. However, many of the largest global exporters, including China, India and Bangladesh are known to use child and/or forced labour in their garment production.

To learn more about the working conditions of those who make your clothing and learn how to take action to urge fashion businesses to stop exploiting the poor, download the Baptist World Aid’s Ethical Fashion Guide.

The guide seeks to empower consumers to purchase ethically, and by doing so, encourage companies to ensure workers are protected and not harmed, that they are rewarded, not exploited and that they work free from the tyranny of modern slavery. This guide grades 128 fashion brands operating in Australia, and assesses the systems they have in place to protect the workers in their supply chain from exploitation, forced labour and child labour.


During the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, approximately 85% of Palestinians were displaced. Palestinians now represent the largest (currently estimated at 5 million) and longest lasting refugee population in the world. Many continue to live in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, and neighbouring Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, without any citizenship rights.

The West Bank has been under military occupation since 1967 with the population having to live amongst military checkpoints and surrounded by a separation wall, the route of which has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.

Since 1967 Israel has also steadily increased and expanded the number of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory with an estimated 42% of the West Bank now under Israeli administration, which has resulted in further displacement of the Palestinian population. The international community considers the settlements in occupied territory (including East Jerusalem and the Golan heights) to be illegal.

To learn more visit the website of the Palestine Israeli Ecumenical Network  a network of Australian Christians who seek lasting peace for the people of Palestine and Israel.

Watch the video prepared by Jewish Voice for Peace for more background information on this issue.

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