Sallies’ State of the Nation
The Salvation Army has published its annual “state of the nation” report into those social issues it deems most pressing for New Zealand. Many of the statistics reported by the Sallies are useful “snapshot-in-time” markers of the extent of some of the social issues facing a significant number of Kiwis, and the report makes interesting and sobering reading. However, the conclusions author Alan Johnson and Director of the Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit Major Campbell Roberts come to in regards to these statistics are a bit disappointing.
For Johnson and Roberts the solution to these problems lies almost exclusively with the Government. Roberts, in his Foreword to the report, decries what he perceives to be the lack of will on the part of Government to raise additional taxes and to spend them in the areas identified in the report—“children, crime and punishment, work and income, social hazards and housing.” And throughout the report, Johnson calls on the Government to provide “leadership” and demonstrate “progress” in these areas.
But is the addressing of the social statistics in the report the sole preserve of the Government? What about our role?
Roberts writes, “If our political leaders sometimes appear a little self-serving and lacking of any worthwhile vision, perhaps it is because we are self-serving in how we vote and that we disregard those who speak of visions.”
The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit would have us believe that our only role in tackling the social problems in our country is to vote into Government those parties who talk about doing something about social issues and then pressure them to put more of our money where their mouth is.
Yes, it is important that we be more aware voters and citizens—that we demand that those who would wish to lead us politically and those we elect take seriously the charge to govern us well and to set up and maintain the conditions that will allow us to flourish as individuals, families, communities, and a country.
But we also have a more direct role to play in tackling our society’s dysfunctions. Roberts’ call for us to be less self-serving in how we vote should be extended to how we conduct ourselves outside the voting booth as well. We should take an interest in our neighbours, volunteer in our communities, and support those who are making a real difference in the lives of our most vulnerable fellow citizens.