NI Bishops raise their voices over social cost of current economic crisis

As food and energy prices continue to soar in Britain and elsewhere, the Bishops of Northern Ireland call for an urgent combined effort from all those in politics, Church, and society to help address the crisis , saying that for the poorest “this is an emergency”.

By Lisa Zengarini

The Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland have voiced their deep concern over the serious impact of the current energy and inflation crises on the most vulnerable, and have called upon public representatives, both in Northern Ireland and in Westminster, to urgently address the issue with appropriate measures.

An emergency, not a crisis

In a strongly worded statement released for the occasion of the Feast Day of St Vincent de Paul, on 27 September, the bishops noted that increases in the cost of basic essentials such as food, fuel and heating, converge to create “life threatening levels of deprivation and fear” both for individuals and businesses.

“For the poorest in our society," they warn, "this is an emergency, not a crisis.”

“More and more low and middle income families, older people and vital businesses in our economy, are gripped with fear as they think about what lies ahead this autumn and winter.”

They therefore urged for “a combined effort from all those in Church, politics and society to help address this crisis now; to act justly, to promote the common good and to show solidarity with the many thousands of families who are enduring hardship and worry.”

Politicians have a duty to ensure the basic needs of citizens 

“Politicians have a particular duty to ensure the basic needs of citizens are being met and to reassure those in need that serious, meaningful help is on its way,” the statement continues.

However, “what has been offered to date, does not go far enough to meet that need,” the bishops say, referring to the fiscal plan announced last week at Westminster by the newly-installed Truss Tory Government to boost Britain's economy.

Need for fairer distribution of resources 

The emergency budget, presented at Westminster by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng on September 23, includes the biggest package of tax cuts since 1985, while subsidizing energy bills for millions of households and businesses at a cost of £60 billion for the next six months, funded by borrowing rather than by taxing the profits of oil and gas companies.

It has drawn criticism from the opposition as well as negative reactions from the markets, with the Pound plummetting to its lowest in decades.

According to the Northern Ireland Bishops, the fiscal plan “represents an unjust distribution of resources which will benefit the richest but bring little comfort to those hardest hit and most at risk in these trying times.”

Supporting lowest income families in NI

This, they note, "highlights once more the need for working devolved politics in Northern Ireland that can deliver for the real needs of people here, especially lowest income families and many small and medium businesses, key employers on this part of the island, on the brink of collapse.”

The Catholic leaders hence appeal to local representatives in Northern Ireland “to prioritise concrete actions that will address the life or death situation many people and businesses face now, and in the months ahead” while putting aside their differences over the NI Protocol.  

They draw attention in particular to the worryingly high levels of child poverty in Northern Ireland which have yet to be addressed , and to the growing number of families struggling to make ends meet, as confirmed by a recent research by Accord, the Catholic Marriage Care Service of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

Church communities can also help

The statement also notes that there is also much that the Churches can do. It therefore calls on all parish communities “to be alert for those who are most impacted by the current emergency, recognising that hardship is often hidden and that many people suffer in silence.”

“Food banks, Saint Vincent de Paul Conferences and other charitable outreaches urgently need new volunteers and more resources due to the unprecedented demand which is likely to get worse as winter approaches. Parish Pastoral Councils might consider extending their existing parish hall activities or providing warm spaces, hot meals, fuel vouchers or other helpful initiatives in response to this urgent situation.”

The "Economy of Francesco"

In conclusion, the Bishops of Northern Ireland invite the faithful to reflect prayerfully on the Covenant which Pope Francis recently signed in Assisi, Italy, at the “Economy of Francesco” event.

The Covenant urges young economists, entrepreneurs and changemakers from across the world to promote a new model for the global economy which supports sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Listen to our report

Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here

28 September 2022, 15:58