‘The gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. This situation is not only between countries but within them, including many of the most prosperous. The World Day of Social Justice is observed to highlight the power of global solidarity to advance opportunity for all‘, so says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Social injustice is pernicious and widespread. Economic exclusion , discrimination and appalling levels of social mobility blight the world in which we live, and as Ban Ki-moon rightly says, most of the countries we inhabit. Shockingly, recent statistics released by Credit Suisse show that the richest 0.5% of individuals hold well over a third of the world’s wealth (http://inequality.org/global-inequality/#sthash.WrSTo2E7.dpuf). And in the US alone,the richest 20% are 8.5 times richer than the poorest 20% (http://www.businessinsider.com/the-negative-effects-of-income-inequality-on-society-2011-11?op=1#ixzz2trl80suN) You don’t need to be an economist to reach the conclusion that this is not a healthy situation to be in.
Inequality is bad news. It’s as simple as that. Linette Lopez writing in the Business Insider in 2011, focused in on Richard Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, author of a book about income inequality, The Spirit Level. Summarising Wilkinson’s conclusions, Lopez states that ‘The basic thesis is that social ills, like crime and teen pregnancy, that have long been associated with poverty, actually have a stronger correlation with income inequality’.
Lopez’s excellent article looks at some of the most shocking statistics highlighted by Wilkinson. These include the following (Note: you can read more at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-negative-effects-of-income-inequality-on-society-2011-11?op=1#ixzz2trlpYzQH):
- Life expectancy is strongly related to income within rich countries.
- Child well-being is higher in more equal societies.
- More children drop out of High School in unequal US States.
- Murder rates are higher in more unequal US States and Canadian Provinces.
- Mental illness is more prevalent in unequal societies.
- Social mobility is lower in more unequal societies.
So the picture is clear and it’s not a pretty one. Nor is it a new one. But we can do something about it. After all inequality doesn’t happen by accident – it’s the result of governmental economic and social policy – therefore if it can be created by these mechanisms it can be deconstructed by them too.
The Christian witness to social justice has always been a strong one. Who can fail to take heed of Isaiah 1:17: ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause’? Or what about 1 John 3:17-18: ‘But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth’?
There is much to reflect on today. The ‘World Day of Social Justice‘ calls us to think how we, each in our own small way, can do something to make a difference. The status quo is not an option. As Ban Ki-moon reminds us:“The gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. … We must do more to empower individuals through decent work, support people through social protection, and ensure the voices of the poor and marginalised are heard.”