Catholic Social Services has recommended that its 60 member bodies not participate in the Government’s new welfare-to-work program for people whose welfare payments have been cut off, saying the program is contrary Catholic social teaching.
"We think it’s an unduly harsh system and we don’t want to be confused as administrators and policemen of the program," Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) Director Mr Frank Quinlan told the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.
The newspaper reports that it has obtained a confidential paper distributed to the 60 Centacare organisations, made the recommendation because "Catholic social teaching specifically calls for those who are outside the paid workforce to be guaranteed a subsistence level of income."
The new system "undermines the right to life and subsistence because a high proportion of those who have had their payments suspended for eight weeks are unable to meet basic needs," the paper said.
Other church organisations, including the Salvation Army and the St Vincent de Paul Society, have also rejected the program.
The spokesman for the St Vincent de Paul Society, Dr John Falzon, told the ABC this morning that instead of offering dignity to vulnerable people, the welfare-to-work program would actually take away hope.
Not knowing the details of the Australian program I don’t know how it really differs from the welfare reform program that happened here in the States. Though I don’t think welfare reform here exactly got a wealth of support from the bishops. There were many prophets of doom foretello of families starving because they would have to find jobs. I especially doubt the statement "those who are outside the paid workforce to be guaranteed a subsistence level of income" appears anywhere in documents related to Catholic social teaching, especially that it is the government that is to supply it. I would think that St. Paul’s statement "If any one will not work, let him not eat." might somehow be part of Catholic social teaching. This idea in Christian circles that it is the job of government only to provide for the poor is pernicious and robs us of our own responsibilities towards the poor. The saint who tore his own jacket in half to give to a poor man did not subsequently demand that there be a government coat giving program instead.
Too often the idea of a safety net is turned into an all embracing cocoon which is not to the advantage of the dignity of a person. The horror stories that were foretold here just did not happen and instead we had stories of hope. Of course there can be an immoral welfare-to-work program but there can also be immoral welfare programs that turn people into state supported drones living on government life support.