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Putting austerity into perspective

In the recent elections in the UK, France and Greece, large numbers of people have voted against the austerity measures being adopted by their governments. These measures include higher taxes and spending cuts, which will reduce the level of public services. People will need to work longer before retiring and public sector wages and pensions are being reduced. The lives of many people are being affected and, so, it is no wonder that they are not happy.

The reason austerity is necessary is that for many years governments have spent more money than they received in taxes. The financial crisis in the world has highlighted this problem, so that, now, some governments are no longer able to borrow the money they need. Some countries, such as Greece, are facing bankruptcy. In the past people have benefited from their government’s over-spending, but now the time has come when the debts must be repaid. The election results suggest that many people have unrealistic expectations.

Many of us who live in Western Europe enjoy a level of affluence millions of people in the world can only dream about. Some Christian friends of mine have set up a project in South Africa to care for children who have become orphans because of HIV/AIDS. In 2009 it was estimated that 5.6 million people in South Africa were living with HIV and AIDS and that in the same year more than 300,000 had died from AIDS-related causes. Young adults aged 15-49 have been particularly affected. It is estimated that there are nearly 2 million orphan children, who have lost one or both of their parents through AIDS. The care of these orphans has been taken on by grandparents and they struggle to cope physically and financially.

When I visited the project I saw the houses where some orphans are being cared for and also visited a feeding programme run in a local church. Children, who live with their grandparents, come after school on 3 days a week to the church where a good meal has been prepared for them. These meals are the only substantial meals the children eat each week. These children face many big problems, but were smiling and thankful. I came away from the project humbled and challenged by these children and by those who are caring for them. I have so much, but do I really appreciate it and do I thank God for it? Even in “austerity” we still have so much.

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