Pope Francis and the Poor List

01 May 2015

The poor are always with us - and they're getting poorer, warns Paul Vallely

THE rich are getting richer. Britain's super-wealthy have doubled their money since the global financial crash five years ago. The rest of us, statistics show, are just about struggling back to where we were before the 2008 financial meltdown. But the nation's wealthiest 1000 people are now collectively worth £547,000,000,000.

This is largely thanks to a booming stock market, whose value has zoomed ahead of Old Money portfolios - which is why the Queen was this week knocked out of the top 300 in the Sunday Times Rich List for the first time in 26 years.

It is not the glamorous celebrities who are doing best. The highest risers in the list are the Weston family, who own Primark; they went up £3.7 billion to £11 billion. Tom Morris, who founded another low-cost retailer, Home Bargains, is up to £2.25 billion. And the Arora brothers, who own B&M Bargains, are up to £1.75 billion - from selling to customers most of whom live on less than the nation's average salary of £25,000 a year.

The Rich List was published just as I was preparing my inaugural professorial lecture on the economics of Pope Francis, who takes a bit of a dim view of the increasing chasm between the rich and poor. The Argentinian Pope reckons that the poor, unlike the rich, do not seem to profit much from globalisation. Indeed, much of the increased wealth of the rich comes from a world market that is driving wages down, to the great disadvantage of the poor.

Worse off still are those human beings who are deemed to be unable to contribute to the global economy: the jobless young, the sick, many in the poorest nations, and the useless old. All these are "nowadays considered as consumer goods who can be used and thrown away," the Pope says.

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"How can it be," he asks, "that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Invoking the Fifth Commandment, he thunders that "we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills."

Pope Francis has outraged right-wing Chris-tians by attacking "trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world". This theory "has never been confirmed by the facts". It "expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding eco- nomic power. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

Pope Francis would no doubt approve of Richard Ross, who last year donated so much of his personal wealth to medical charities that he has now fallen off the Rich List. But will the populist Pope move beyond exhortations for the rich to follow the example of the admirable Mr Ross? Will he extend Catholic Social Teaching beyond denunciations of irresponsible capitalism, and offer some indication of the practical reform required? Those are some of the questions I shall be exploring in Chester tonight.

Paul Vallely's lecture "How Pope Francis is changing Catholic Social Teaching" will be given in the Binks Building at the University of Chester at 7.30 p.m. today

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