The rich CEO and Lazarus

Our Communications Manager Liam Purcell reflects on news that the government plans to make businesses publish the gap between the pay of their chief executive and an average worker.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the UK said many years ago that when the gap between rich and poor becomes too large, society begins to be run for the benefit of the rich, not for all its members. It seems very clear that we reached that point in the UK some time ago. The huge disparities that exist in levels of pay are just the starkest example of the growing gap.

With some executives being paid hundreds or thousands times more than their lowest-paid employees – even, often, when companies fail and performance is poor – the injustice is plain for everyone to see. And it is most keenly felt by people trapped in low-paid work, unable to loosen the grip of poverty on their lives despite working every bit as hard as any chief exec.

So it is very welcome news that companies could be made to publish their pay ratios. Making these injustices more visible will increase public support for change, and enable shareholders and campaigners to take action. It will help more people to understand that these disparities are not natural or inevitable – that they have grown over time, and that we can choose to do things differently.

At Church Action on Poverty, our faith motivates us to speak out about this issue.

“Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
(Luke 16, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus)

When I read Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, it strikes me that the rich man doesn’t end up being tormented in Hades because of any specific personal sin. Rather, Jesus’ anger is directed at the unjust gap between the rich man’s wealth and the terrible situation of Lazarus: “covered with sores, [he] longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.”

That concern for injustice and inequality runs right through the Bible. Principles in the Old Testament like gleaning and jubilee are designed to ensure that no one gets left behind, and that the rich do not amass so much wealth that they become separated from the rest of society.

This new initiative suggests various ways that Christians and churches can take action to  loosen the grip of poverty and inequality:

  • Lead by example, and publish our own pay ratios. Church Action on Poverty has been publishing ours for several years in our annual review (it’s 1.5:1).
  • Also set an example by paying a real Living Wage. All the UK’s churches have committed to pay a genuine Living Wage – you could make sure that your own church is in line with the policy. Sign up for regular updates at our website.
  • Support companies that have fair pay ratios. Churches procure goods and services from companies, and have large pension funds to invest. This published data will allow us to insist on working only with companies that have fair pay ratios, encouraging more companies to change their practices.

If every person is made in the image of God and has equal intrinsic worth, we must challenge any system that values some people so much more than others.

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