While according to the saying “it takes a village to raise a healthy child”, the reality is that it takes a village (read community here) to support parents in raising a healthy child. We know that loving families are at the core of a stable and just society but we need to recognise that parents require ongoing support from their wider family, grandparents, siblings, their friends and the broader community to be able to raise their children. According to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the investment in solidarity with families in turn ensures that the family makes a “unique and irreplaceable contribution to the good of society” (#213). It is in the family that one learns social responsibility and solidarity.
As evidence of this concept Flabiana’s story in the 2013-2014 Social Justice statement Lazarus at our Gate gives witness to the way that hope can be restored for families who have lost everything through violence and terror. Through empowering people to develop their own future Caritas Australia assists families reclaim their human dignity and thus build a stronger and more resilient community. Yet in Australia we seem to keep on repeatedly devaluing the role of families through policies that increasingly marginalise those at the fringes of our society.
In a recent media release the Australian Council of Social Services raised concerns about the long term effects of changes to the Parenting Payment Single payment on 1st Jan 2013 that required parents whose children had reached the age of 8 to move to the lower Newstart payments. For over 64,000 families who were already struggling below the poverty line, this meant an immediate loss of a minimum of $60 per week or more if parents were in part-time work. A disproportionate number of these are single parent families who are like Flabiana struggling to give hope for a better future for themselves and their family. Like Flabiana’s the stories of their struggles provide a powerful witness to the way that families are being devalued in Australian society. Melinda Reist questions why is it that we are not holding up such women as heroines of our society? They often battle against seemingly overwhelming odds to provide loving homes within which children can grow up healthy yet we seem to be treating them as villains and punishing them for circumstances beyond their control. Such government policies that are supposed to act to force people off welfare payments and into the workforce rather act to keep families in poverty by preventing them from accessing further education and limiting access to healthy life choices.
If the Fair Incentives to Work Bill is viewed cynically as only a potential budgetary cost saving measure for the Federal government then we are using the lives of the poorest in our consumer society as disposable items that can be used to support power for the strongest amongst us. Pope Francis in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium reminds us that;
“Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.”
How can we possible be counter-cultural in the face of such a powerful exploitative trend? The Australian Catholic Bishops suggest that we need to strengthen our own souls. Through prayer and reflection we can look beyond ourselves and put our needs and wants into perspective and in doing so recognise those people in our communities who are knocking at our gates, get to know them, understand their needs and perhaps help find justice in our own region.
‘None of us really has any idea how many lives we touch or what impact we have on those lives. In most cases, we will never get to see what difference we made, but living out loud isn’t about noticing the results. It is about doing what we came here to do, for no reason other than that it is our life purpose.’ Carolyn Baker