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Church leaders support 'Open Letter'

Tuesday 9th September

Church leaders support 'Open Letter' to Political Candidates

Church leaders from the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army churches have lent their support to an "Open Letter" issued by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) that calls for all political candidates in this year's General Election to "front up to the issue of reducing persistent levels of poverty in Aotearoa ew Zealand" [a copy of this "Open Letter" is attached].

"As made clear in our joint Church leaders' statement in March we believe that issues related to poverty, families and children, older people, housing and essential social services are issues that individual politicians need to take personal leadership on. There is also a clear expectation that they offer the voting public something significant to say on these issues, that can then be part of a process of a honest and open debate," said Archbishop David Moxon of the Anglican Church.

The Reverend Brian Turner, Methodist Church, Rodney Macanna, Baptist Churches of New Zealand, and the Right Reverend Pamela Tankersley, Presbyterian Church, all described the period before an election as a unique opportunity to intensify discussion about the type of society we live in.

"The affect that poverty has on vulnerable New Zealanders is an issue we need to bring to the fore as part of the call we have as Christians to serve those on the margins of society," said Pamela Tankersley.

"A question that we need to ask ourselves is whether we are striving hard enough as a nation to put aside self-interest and to find a stronger collective social conscience in 2008," said Brian Turner.

"When our politicians talk about the policies they plan to introduce we want them to talk about he extent to which those policies can be considered just and compassionate, and we want them to explicitly address the issue of reducing poverty," said Rodney Macann.

"Next week the Catholic Church holds its annual Social Justice Week and the focus is on the latest publication from Caritas, our social justice agency, titled 'Look and look again: Poverty in an affluent society'," said Archbishop John Dew of Wellington. "As made clear in the recent statement by Catholic Bishops we are not about to tell people how to vote, but the way in which individual politicians respond to social justice issues, particularly poverty, is obviously an important signal of their integrity and values".

Garth McKenzie, Salvation Army Commissioner, said that any investment in addressing poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand is a "socially responsible investment".

"In the set of issues and reflections for this year's election we have just published in our publication 'A New Journey', we argue that we all need to have a concern about the structures which marginalise people and leave them in poverty. The message we have for our would-be leaders is that we need to do more as a nation t look for ways of building just structures - locally, nationally and even globally".

Earlier this year the Church leaders also endorsed the Council's information programme titled 'Aroha tetahi ki tetahi - Let us look after each other'. The programme aims to raise public awareness of social justice and compassion issues and to ensure that the situation of the poor and vulnerable in Aotearoa New Zealand is given a more prominent place on the agenda of public concerns in 2008. Through the programme thousands of posters and brochures, promoting themes such as treasuring our children and valuing older people, have been distributed to Churches and providers of essential social services throughout New Zealand.

The five "calls" made by the programme are for a more just and compassionate society through the implementation of policies to:

* Utilise our nation's prosperity to eliminate poverty * Support families and communites to nurture and portect our children * Provide older people with a range of choices for their homes, support and lifestyle * Enable access to good, affordable housing for everyone * Support community-based partnership-driven solutions to social issues in the community

More information is available at www.justiceandcompassion.org.nz

AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL POLITICAL CANDIDATES

As the official commencement of this year's election campaign draws nearer the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) calls on all politicians, both those who are electorate candidates and those who are on party lists, to front up to the issue of reducing persistent levels of poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand.

NZCCSS is concerned that the affects of poverty should not be ignored or minimised as an election year issue. At the beginning of this year we called for all politicians to take a stand on the growth in the gap between the rich and the poor yet NZCCSS is concerned that political parties have not done enough to spell out policies that could lead to better ways to utilise our nation's prosperity to reduce poverty. At minimum we seek - on behalf of those who may struggle to be heard - a basic assurance that the impact of all policy making decisions be measured in terms of the quality of life of those who are the most vulnerable and who are most affected by poverty in our society.

There is, we believe, a consistent and compelling case that a consensus approach needs to be taken to reducing the affects of poverty on our future generations. Already this year there have been compelling evidence-based reports published that call for specifi c actions on poverty from the Child Poverty Action Group, from Caritas the social justice agency of the Catholic Church, and most recently a report titled "A Fair Go for All Children", from the Offi ce of the Children's Commissioner and Barnardos. The Ministry of Social Development's own report "Pockets of Significant Hardship and Poverty" (released under the Official Information Act) adds to the overwhelming evidence that more action is needed to address the issue of a persistent, damaging poverty that hurts us all.

In this open letter we are therefore calling on all politicians to "own" this issue, and we are calling on you to demonstrate that there are actions your party will take that will speak louder than words.

We ask you to take the time to look at the "Facts About Poverty" information sheets recently published by NZCCSS and available on our website at www.justiceandcompassion.org.nz We challenge you to be prepared to respond to this information with words that move beyond convenient one-liners about solutions based on 'growing the economic cake', or that seem to make a political and social choice that it's OK for people to live in high levels of poverty in this country.

Particularly on behalf of the children of sole parents and beneficiaries on base levels of benefit that have forced them far below the unoffi cial 'poverty line', we ask: What will you do? When the hard questions are asked, how just and compassionate will your answers be?

From the NZ Council of Christian Social Services - 8 September 2008

Ross Kendrew, President - Salvation Army Shaun Robinson, Vice President - CEO, Presbyterian Support East Coast Eric Allan - Director, Catholic Family & Community Services Ruby Duncan - CEO, Iosis Family Solutions Michael Greer - Superintendent, Christchurch Methodist Mission David Hanna - Director, Wesley Community Action Joan Hardiman - Dominican Sister, Catholic Church Nettie Holm - Minister & Consultant, NZ Baptist Social Services Ian Hutson (Major) - Salvation Army National Community Ministries Duncan MacDonald - CEO, Selwyn Foundation Vaughan Milner - CEO, Presbyterian Support Upper South Island Karen Morrison-Hume - Director, Anglican Action Judith Petersen - Director, South Centre, Anglican Care Trevor McGlinchey, NZCCSS Executive Officer

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