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Poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand

What Catholic teaching says about poverty, what is happening in New Zealand, and what Caritas is doing about.

Below are some key questions we get asked about poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand, and what Caritas is doing.

What are the ethical teaching points about poverty which inform Caritas?

The key documents of Catholic social teaching are found in the great social encyclicals of the Church. These are letters written by Popes to members of the Church and ‘all people of goodwill’.  From these encyclicals are drawn key principles.  A very important principle is the preferential protection for the poor and vulnerable, which means that we are asked to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first, and to consider public policy decisions from the perspective of how well they care for the most vulnerable members of society.

There are many places you can find summaries of Catholic social teaching on poverty. One good place to start is the Catholic social teaching page from the Office for Social Justice in St Paul and Minneapolis (USA).

In 2008 Caritas focused on poverty in New Zealand for Social Justice Week, including a statement by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference. Read our Social Justice Week booklet Poverty in an Affluent Society online here, or order a copy here.

What are some facts and figures about poverty in New Zealand?

During recent years, New Zealand has appeared to have very low unemployment. However, we still had a significant and growing gap between rich and poor, and a significant number of people (especially children) live below the New Zealand poverty line.  Now we have had a global economic crisis (2008/09). As our economy continues to be affected by that, unemployment has risen again, and so has poverty.

Some useful facts and figures about poverty in New Zealand can be found in the Vulnerability Reports of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services. View them here.

How do you actively respond to poverty and can you give some examples?

In New Zealand, Caritas’ role in responding to poverty is through advocacy and education. Unlike our work in developing countries, we do not undertake aid and development programmes.  Some of the ways we work in New Zealand are:

  • Submissions – for example, we recently made a submission on changes to benefits. See our Submission on the Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill 2010
  • Assisting people who are most affected by changes in government policy around poverty to have their voices heard. For example, we worked with other Church and community agencies to set up the Alternative Welfare Working Group. The Group provided an avenue for beneficiaries, disabled people, sole parents and community organisations to have a say on benefit changes. Read a story about it here, or visit the Welfare Justice website.
  • Working together with Catholic social services agencies to try to bring about changes to systems that are hurting the poorest members of our society. For example, we worked recently with the Society of St Vincent de Paul on the issue of loan sharks.
  • Asking people to pray about and consider issues that are affecting poor and vulnerable people. You might like to look at some of our Caritas Companions prayer letters.




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