Friday, April 09, 2021

WHO would have thought that we would have to spend another Easter in lockdown, another Easter without family gatherings with travel severely restricted and grandparents still unable to welcome grandchildren into their homes?

Christians throughout the country unable to gather for the central events of the liturgical year – the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Great Vigil on Holy Saturday night – all celebrated in an empty church with a virtual congregation.

And yet, the Easter message of Resurrection can raise up our spirit and give us strength and resilience. It is a message of hope, proclaiming that light will emerge from the darkness, that out of death comes life.

For Christians, it is a vindication of the fundamental message of Jesus that love will triumph over hate, that injustice will ultimately be redeemed, that self-surrender in love will lead to transformation of life. It heralded a new beginning for history, opened new possibilities for a future based on the kingdom vision of Jesus.

More than ever today, we need to rediscover the message of hope that Resurrection brings to the world.  In the midst of a pandemic can we dare to hope for a better future? The crisis precipitated by the pandemic challenges us to redirect our vision, to change direction.

Pope Francis urges us to dream big, “to rethink our priorities – what we value, what we want, what we seek – and commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.”

He spelt out his vision for a new normal in a beautiful and recently published little book titled: “Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future.”

He argues persuasively that we cannot proceed in the future as we have in the past. We have an opportunity now (precipitated by the great crisis of Covid 19) to forge a new future, to emerge from the ordeal of Covid less selfish than we went in. The virus he reminds us has “pitilessly…demonstrated our mutual dependency and common vulnerability. We must forge new bonds of solidarity and fraternity.”

“Aggressive individualism” 

He is extremely critical of the market economy which promotes a gospel of profit and power. It promotes an aggressive individualism and above all it decouples economics and morality. This has the effect of putting the economy in the hands of technocrats who have no interest the plight of the poor and disenfranchised in our society.

The Christian vision of Resurrection impels us to dream of new politics whereby the riches of the world can be shared among everyone and nature, the source of the riches, can be regenerated.

The vision is not merely utopian. Francis recommends very practical mechanisms which if implemented would support the creation of a more inclusive and equitable society.

He has on many occasions recommended the introduction of a Basic Income (BI) guarantee.  A Basic Income is defined “as a substantial, unconditional and tax-free payment from the exchequer to all citizens on an individual basis financed by a flat tax rate on all income. It would replace tax credits and tax allowances for those in paid employment and welfare payments for those who are not in paid employment.”

It would be paid as follows: every person under 65 and over 25 would receive a weekly income of approximately €188 and for those over 65 the amount would increase to €230 per person. Those over 18 and under 25 would receive €100 per week. Carers’ allowances and Disability allowance and other special needs payments would be still paid but would be means-tested.

The scheme would be financed by an income tax rate of 45 per cent on all personal income.  This would replace income tax, PRSI and the universal social charge.

Social Justice Ireland has been advocating and lobbying for a BI guarantee for many years. It sounds utopian but in reality, many sections of the population currently receive basic income style payments, for example, the non -contributory pension, child benefit and unemployment allowances.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, whereby people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic were guaranteed a weekly income, is another example of a Basic Income model.

Basic Income guarantee 

In his most recent book, “(“Robots, Ethics and the Future of Jobs”) Dr Sean McDonagh, a leading environmental theologian, cogently defends the introduction of a Basic Income guarantee and coherently and convincingly outlines the advantages of such a system.

It would mean that men and women are treated equally in that the BI system recognises all kinds of work not merely work for which people are paid.

So much voluntary work and especially work in the home is not recognised or rewarded today (cooking, cleaning, caring for children). It means that such crucial work would be valued and rewarded going forward.

McDonagh claims that administration costs of a BI model would be low compared to the cost of administering the current social welfare system. It would also cut down on the administrative bureaucracy involved in means-testing people who apply for benefits. More importantly, it is much more effective than other kinds of social assistance in supplementing the income of poor people.

Supporters of BI claim that it will help to bridge the gap between rich and poor and will eliminate the poverty trap while at the same time ensuring that no one is better off unemployed.

McDonagh prophetically alerts us to the impact of new technologies (robots, drones, machine learning) on jobs. Automation will encroach on many sectors of industry causing huge job losses. Therefore, some form of equitable distribution system such as BI is needed to ensure people will have enough to live life with dignity.

I realise that most are struggling just to survive the lockdown and long to get back to normal. However, so many are wondering what the ‘new normal’ will be like. May the hope of the Easter Season embolden us to ‘dream big.’

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