Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dr. Falzon on justice and charity


Last Sunday’s Catholic Weekly reports that Dr. John Falzon, National Chief Executive Officer of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, has

sounded a word of warning about the need for the Federal Government to be “proactive in ensuring that people who are unemployed, or who are outside the labour market for other reasons, are provided with an adequate household income”.
“It is time to turn our backs on the outdated punitive approach to people who are in receipt of income support,” he said. “At this time when we anticipate a significant growth in unemployment, people should not be subjected to the moralistic cruelty of the breaching regime.
“Rather, let us think creatively about encouraging and enabling workforce participation.
“Let us, once and for all, repudiate the misguided notion that a vulnerable family’s meagre income should be used as a bargaining chip to coerce them into a particular behaviour.”
He added: “Neither should we allow our nation to become a place where government abrogates its responsibility by sending people to charities.
“All of the charitable organisations in Australia are doing a magnificent job.
“I would be very wary, however, of encouraging the growth of a culture that pushes people to rely on charity when, in fact, what they really need is justice.”
But given that Dr. Falzon made these comments in the context of a “significant growth in unemployment”, it is hard to see how this is a matter of justice rather than of charity. That is, since the impending rise in unemployment is cyclical rather than structural in nature, how can this be a matter of justice, when justice, as I thought Dr. Falzon would agree, involves combatting unjust structures, not unavoidable slumps in the labour market, which I would have thought calls for assistance in charity when the workers affected have failed to put aside enough money to see them through the hard times? I am no liberal, economic or otherwise, but I think we need to be careful about condemning things as failures in justice when what might really be called for is assistance in charity.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
9.XII.2008 A.D.

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