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Coronavirus and inequalities

The pandemic has shown up the huge inequalities in living standards both here within the UK and between the wealthy countries and the poorest. It’s a sad picture. We can turn away and wring our hands – or we can through our votes in elections, through ethical investment, through charitable donation try to do something about it.


The Archbishop of Canterbury argued in his interview with Andrew Marr at Easter that if we just let the market rule, or did nothing to mitigate the differences caused by debt and unemployment “there will be enormous suffering”. The argument is that poverty and deprivation in poor countries is almost an invitation to future catastrophic pandemics. And pandemics mean we all suffer – every country in the world.


I have seen shanty towns in Southern Africa and South America. I have gingerly peered in. The conditions are indescribably bad. I have not personally seen Kibera outside Nairobi in East Africa but the scale you read about is terrifying. Over 1 million people live there cheek by jowl without clean water or proper sanitation.


By comparison we here have the privilege - yes the privilege – of social distancing. We have the privilege of hand-washing. An Indian doctor in the UK has said (perhaps a trifle unfairly): ”A disease that was spread by the rich as they flew round the globe will now kill millions of poor.”


In our own country we might say that we are unfairly dependent on the poorest paid: food suppliers, hospital cleaners, overseas workers and carers, etc.


Centuries ago the Old Testament prophets denounced injustices in their own times. They argued that the whole country would suffer in consequence, and in each case they were right. Who are going to be the prophets now?


We are not required, I believe, to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. That is no enduring solution (though some feel called to do that, and Jesus was not afraid to issue that challenge to a certain rich young man). We need vibrant economies to provide the wherewithal to lift the world out of poverty. Great progress has in fact been made towards that goal over the last 100 years. Where we have the means to make a difference – as mentioned above in first paragraph – it would be a Christian duty, even privilege, to do more. We might even benefit ourselves, and our children and grandchildren.

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