The SA Budget: Will Lazarus Get Support?

During Lent, alms giving is considered an important spiritual discipline. This discipline asks us to reach out to the helpless, and to open our hearts to those who are marginalised by society. This spiritual exhortation to care for those less fortunate runs throughout the Gospel, but perhaps most dramatically it is illustrated in the parable Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus. In the parable, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who refuses to provide assistance when he could to Lazarus, a beggar knocking at his gate. In the parable  , the rich man suffers in the afterlife for ignoring the needs of Lazarus when he was in a position to help him.

As the budget was tabled in Parliament this week, we may well ask what provisions the budget has in place for those less fortunate in South Africa, and for all those who may identify with Lazarus in the Gospel story. Certainly, the budget will impact those of us who may identify with the rich man. Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has significantly raised personal income tax, with those who earn R1,5m per annum paying an additional R1 105 a month in income tax (The Star, 26 February 2015). There is some concern among those in this upper income tax bracket with the increase. The Times newspaper reports that 11% of registered voters are paying 61% of the personal income tax payable in South Africa (26 February, 2015), and the question is whether this group will be happy to continue to bear the brunt of our financial burdens into the future. However, we are also faced with the important question of how much of this tax will be benefitting the marginalised in South Africa.

For those of us in South Africa who have to travel long distances to work, the raised fuel levy will heavily increase the costs of transport. This will place stress on already tight budgets in low income houses (we must remember that prices increase across the board when the fuel price goes up). Together with the distinct possibility of fuel price increases in the future, the added stress may only get worse. However, perhaps the biggest criticism of the budget has been that income support grants were not raised to a level that could help those of us who most desperately need this support. Grants for the aged, veterans and the disabled were increased, yes. However, does the budget adequately take into account the rise in the costs of living in South Africa? The accuracy of inflation estimates for low income groups is decisive here. Furthermore, is Government really cutting their spending in a representational way?

Taking into account the predicted 2% growth in the economy, the budget has been described as balanced. However, considering the desperate need of Lazarus in Jesus’ parable as well as those who identify with him in South Africa, we must be critical and ask whether the budget does enough for the helpless and the marginalised in 2015.

Rev. Grant Tungay SJ

Fr Grant Tungay SJ is a lawyer by training, he left a career in law to join the Jesuits. He specialised in human rights law and has done volunteer work at the SA Human Rights Commission and also worked as an intern for the Centre of Applied Legal Studies at WITS. He worked at the Jesuit Institute South Africa for a few years in the area of social justice and is interested in the overlap between law, social justice and spirituality.
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