The Code of Social and Family Responsibility

We, the Catholic Bishops and Congregational Leaders of Religious Orders in Aotearoa/New Zealand welcome the opportunity to comment on the Government's proposed Code of Social and Family Responsibility and the response needed to it. Caring for children and families is a deep human value that our Christian tradition affirms. Today, family life is under great pressure and stress. It is urgent that we ask ourselves what are the causes of this pressure and take steps to eradicate them.

We suggest that the primary cause of pressure and stress for families is the state of the New Zealand economy.

In introducing the Public Discussion Document, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister state that "New Zealand has a strong economy."

Does New Zealand have a STRONG ECONOMY:

  • when 208,300 people are looking for jobs? (Official Jobless Figure - Household Labour Force Survey, December quarter 1997)
  • when many families are living at a subsistence level? (Bob Stevens et al, in 'Fair and Affordable: The Redesign of the NZ Welfare State' 1998)
  • when more and more people are forced to take on as many as five part-time jobs to bring in as little as $150.00 a week? (Anne Else - 'False Economy' 1997)
  • when weekly incomes are insufficient to enable many members of society to participate in the community in normal ways? (Change Team on Targeting Social Assistance 1991)
  • when there are lengthy waiting lists for access to hospital services and primary health care is free only for those up to six years of age?
  • when low income households can no longer live in state houses because of unaffordable market rents?
  • when our economic policies have re-distributed income upwards from the poor to the already economically advantaged?

These indicators suggest that poverty is increasing in New Zealand and so, therefore, are our social problems. Much discussion in the community around the proposed Code implies that low-income families and families under stress are themselves to blame for the current social problems. We believe that present economic policies and structures are the major cause of many social problems. Catholic Social Teaching has always been that the inherent dignity of the human person, and of the human family group, should be fostered.

Let us consider these issues and respond to the questionnaire accompanying the Discussion Document, both on the proposed Code and on individual issues, by adding comments on the need for an adequate economic base required to support families and communities to live out their social responsibilities and to participate in society.

Our faith tells us that no-one should be condemned to life on the margins.

From An Open Letter about Poverty in New Zealand by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services 1996