Church leaders in New Zealand have issued an open letter calling on all politicians to make reducing poverty a high priority during an election year.

Leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army churches joined in the appeal to all political leaders, both elected and non-elected, to “front up to the issue of reducing persistent levels of poverty.”

Issued by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, the Sept. 8 letter said the effects of poverty “should not be ignored or minimized as an election-year issue.”

The group, which earlier this year called on all politicians to take a stand on the growing gap between the rich and poor, said political parties are not doing enough to “spell out policies that could lead to better ways to utilize our nation’s prosperity to reduce poverty.”

At minimum, the religious leaders sought “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,” the letter said, citing studies that add to “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.”

The letter referred New Zealand’s political leaders to “Facts About Poverty” information sheets published by NZCCSS and challenged them “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.”

Church leaders signing the letter included Nettie Holm, minister and community-ministries consultant for the Baptist Churches of New Zealand.

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) is made up of representatives from the Anglican Care Network, Baptist Churches of New Zealand, Catholic Social Services, Presbyterian Support New Zealand and the Methodist and Salvation Army churches.

The appeal to politicians is part of a program to raise public awareness on issues of social justice and compassion in New Zealand. It calls for policies that will:

–Support families and communities in nurturing and protecting children.
–Provide older people with choices for their homes, support and lifestyle.
–Utilize the nation’s prosperity responsibly to eliminate poverty.
–Enable access to good, affordable housing for everyone.
–Support community-based organizations.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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