Religious attitudes to the rich and the poor in British society

Revision for AQA GCSE religious studies

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Introduction to the rich and poor

Who are the rich and poor?

  • Our socitey includes very rich people and very poor people, as well as the vast majority who fall between these two extremes
  • The rich have aquired or inherited wealth  in the form of money, possessions and investments - they have more money than they need to provide the basic necessities of life such as food and a home. 
  • In addition, they are able to buy luxuries, holidays and cars, and have savings in the bank or other investments. Their lives are comfotable and they have few financial worries
  • On the other hand, anyone living in poverty struggles to afford food and the basic necessitites for themselves and their family. Some may have a home, but it may be unsuitable for their purpose and they may be behind with their rental or mortage payments. 
  • Others will be homeless, whether through difficult circumstances or becuase their own choices have led to that situation. 
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Introduction to the rich and poor

Is equality possible?

  • Many people would prefer there to be less of a difference between the rich and the poor.
  • But complete equality, where people have the same amount of wealth, is very likely to remain an ideal.
  • Communist philosophy attemps to close the gap between the rich and poor (and some religious teachings share this ideal).
  • But other people think that complete equality is not desirable.
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Religious attitudes to the rich and poor

General principles 

  • Most religions acknowledge that there will always be rich and poor people.
  • Religious founders and leaders throughout the centuries have seen that this is the case, and religions recognise that it will go on being so.
  • They do not teach that equality in respect of money and possessions is necessary.
  • Instead, religions teach that a different type of equality is desirable - one in which each person is valued and shown equal care and respect.
  • They also teach that it is how wealth is acquired and used that is important - whether a person got rich by exploiting others or whether their wealth leads to greed and selfishness.
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Religious attitudes to the rich and poor

What each religion teaches

Christianity:

  • The Bible teaches that all created things belong to God.
  • People are given talents that should not be squandered.
  • So it follows that talents can be used to earn money.
  • But money, and in particular striving to acquire more than is needed, can take people's attention away from God  and this is to be avoided.
  • 'No-one can serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and money'

Islam:

  • Wealth is a blessing from Allah and should be used to help others
  • The value of money is in what it can do, rather than what it is.
  • 'Richness does not lie in abundance of worldly goods, but true richness is the richness of the soul'
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Why are some people rich?

Is being rich what you think it is?

  • Some people are so rich that they can live a life of luxury purely off the interest paid on their investments.
  • They make money faster than they can spend it.
  • However, most people have little opportunity of becoming extremely rich.
  • Get-rich quick schemes and long-lost relatives giving millions away are usually little more than fantasies.
  • Everyone probably knows of people who they think are a lot richer than they are. 
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Why are some people rich?

So how do people become rich?

  • A relatively small minority of people are born into wealthy families and inherit a lot of money and/or wealth in possessions. However, no one can choose the family they are born into. 
  • Some people marry a rich spouse and share their wealth. If the spouse dies, the survivor may inherit all their money and possessions.
  • Some people receive relative wealth through gifts, for example from older members of their family.
  • A very few people win the lottery. The National lottery has made over a thousand millionaires in Britain but, for every weekly winner, there are millions of people whose 'investment' of at least £1 might just as well have been thrown into the bin.
  • Many people speculate on the financial markets. If the companies and products they invest in do well, investors can earn substantial returns of money. These people do not necessarily do anything to influence the company or product's success other than take the risk of investing their own money in it.  
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Why are some people rich?

  • A few inspired people make a lot of money by inventing a new product, marketing a new concept or creating something such a a popular song or a work of art. Songwriters receive a royalty payment every time their song is played commercially and inventors such as James Dyson earn more money every time their product is sold.
  • Others have a talent for something that pays a good salary. If they are so talented or lucky that they receive national  or international recognition, such as a film of football star, they may acquire vast amounts of money and possessions.
  • Many people work extremely hard, probably for long hours, to earn enough to make them comfortably well off or wealthy. They may have studied hard over many years to get the type of job, for example as a lawyer or a doctor, that earns a high salary, or been very enterprising in growing a healthy business, such as a string of small shops.
  • Saving and investing wisely also helps people to accumulate wealth. They might not become very rich, but certainly richer than they were.  
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Why are some people poor?

Poverty in Britain has many causes

  • Often poverty is a result of circumstances beyond the control of the people affected
  • Occasionally, people make decisions that lead to their own poverty
  • Regardless of the cause, it is a commonly held belief that the poor need help to overcome their difficulties, which is often not easy to obtain.
  • Below are four common reasons for poverty. 
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Why are some people poor?

UNEMPLOYMENT

  • Typically, there are between 1.5 million and 2 million people registered as unemployed in Britain 
  • This is around 5-6% of the working population
  • In 2008, around 3 million families had no one in work and one in seven children lived in a household with no one in work
  • A significant number of people have illnesses or conditions that prevent them from working. 
  • The unemployed claim benefits from the state, which provide enough to live on  but not enough to give them a comfortable standard of living.
  • In order to claim these benefits they have to be actively seeking work. 
  • However, many lack the opportunities, education or skills to get they job they want or need.
  • It is especially difficult for the homeless to get a job, as many employers are reluctant to take on someone without a home address or to trust a homeless person to be reliable.
  • Homelessness can also prevent people from receiving state benefits 
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Why are some people poor?

LOW WAGES

  • Despite the increased opportunities that education offers, there are millions of workers earning low wages.
  • This is partly because many jobs do not require specialised skills and so they can be done by people with little or no training or ability. 
  • These jobs probably offer rates of pay at, or a little above, the national minimum wage, but this will provide barely sufficient to live and no luxuries.
  • If the cost of food or basic necessities such as electricity rises faster than wages, these people will become poor. 
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Why are some people poor?

WASTEFUL SPENDING PATTERNS

  • Some individuals earn what for many people would be a comfortable wage, but they spend a significant proportion of their money on tobacco, alcohol, gambling and/or other luxuries, leaving little or nothing for the basic necessities of life. 
  • This is especially hard on any children in the family, who are dependent on their parents fulfilling their responsibility to earn enough for their needs. 
  • They have no choice but to live this way.
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Why are some people poor?

DEBT

  • Many people get themselves into debt through financial mismanagement .
  • For example, they may have attempted to take out a credit card and use it to buy things they need or want, but are then not able to meet the monthly payments to reduce their debt.
  • Others may be persuaded to borrow to much to buy a house only to struggle to meet the monthly mortgage payments. 
  • This could eventually lead to the bank or building society that loaned the money taking the house from them and leaving them homeless. 
  • The whole family may then be in poverty.
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What does being poor really mean?

Who suffers the most?

Children and young people

  • Are often the most badly affected by poverty because they are dependent on adults and can do nothing to raise their standard of living.
  • Teenagers could do a part-time job such as a paper round but, although this may give them pocket money and a degree of financial independence, it is unlikely to help the family's financial situation.
  • They may suffer because their clothes are different, feel left out when their friends are discussing the latest 'must have' mobile phone, games console, designer gear or music player.
  • They may be reluctant to invite friends round to their house. 
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What does being poor really mean?

Adults

  • May feel guilt and helplessness in the family
  • Especially if they are not to blame for the financial situation they  and their family have to cope with, must not be underestimated.
  • It is likely that they are aware they they may, through no fault of their own, be providing their children with a difficult start in life that they may struggle to overcome.
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What does being poor really mean?

Young people who leave home

  • In search of a better life often swap a poor but loving family for much worse.
  • If they cannot get a job and escape poverty, such a move might result in a life of hardship on the streets, possibly leading to drug abuse or to prostitution as the only way of earning some money.
  • In contrast, if they stay with or near their family and their desire to improve their life is planned and supported by the family, especially if that includes further education and/or training, there is a much better chance of success. 
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What does being poor really mean?

The elderly

  • May also suffer particularly badly from poverty through not being able to work and provide money to make their state pensions go further.
  • Coupled with frailty and possible ill health, their quality of life may be quite low.
  • They may even be forced to share medication since they cannot afford other prescriptions. 
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How is it possible to overcome poverty?

The chances of escaping the poverty trap

  • Many extremely poor people in Britain cannot escape the poverty trap
  • They may live in socially deprived areas or on the streets
  • Without resources or confidence, they find that getting an education, qualifications, skills and a good job is just too difficult.
  • However, some do succeed on lifting themselves out of that situation.
  • Although they may not become very rich, they may be able to provide a comfortable standard of living for themselves and their family.
  • A few overcome poverty to become extremely rich.
  • For example, some wealthy business people and successful sports and entertainment stars started their careers with very little, but through their talent, hard work, initiative and/or luck have amassed great fortunes.  
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How is it possible to overcome poverty?

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

  • Many young people benefit from the education offered in schools, with support and encouragement from their families and teachers. They gain qualifications that lead to further education, good careers and a comfortable way of life.
  • Others find it difficult to benefit from school. Some have too many problems and less support at home; others do not understand the difference education could make to their lives. They leave without gaining many or any qualifications. Unskilled, low-paid work may be the best they can hope for. 
  • Education does not need to stop after school. There are courses in literacy and numeracy, as well as vocational skills such as bricklaying, on a full- or a part-time basis. Vocational courses include working in local businesses. 
  • Alternatively, many companies pay for young workers to attend college part-time to improve their skills For those who need to earn money while studying, this route to education and training may be a good option. Students attending college between the ages of 16 and 19 receive a maintenance allowance (depending on their parents salaries)
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How is it possible to overcome poverty?

COUNSELLING

  • Many young people need extra help to make career choices or decisions that may affect  their standard of living. Schools and colleges have specialist careers advisers and the local-authority-based connexions service give advice on such areas as careers, learning, health, housing,, money and rights.
  • Adults can also obtain advice that may help to life them out of poverty. The Citizens Advice is a national charity with 3,200 offices, providing free advice on social, legal, financial and other issues. 
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How is it possible to overcome poverty?

GOVERNMENT HELP

  • Many people look to the government for help
  • As a society, we expect government to pass laws to protect the poor and provide benefits to help them survive.
  • We can vote for the political party that we think will help most and we pay our taxes to provide the necessary resources.
  • In 1999, the British government introduced a minimum wage to prevent workers being exploited by being paid to little
  • The government also provides benefits to help individuals and families, e.g unemployment benefit to help the family of someone seeking a job etc
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Religious attitudes to the responsible use of mone

General principles

  • All religions teach that people should use their wealth responsibly
  • Many teach that wealth is a gift and God expects people to use it to help others, as well as themselves
  • That does not mean that only rich people should help the poor, but that everyone has a duty not to be greedy and selfish but to help others less fortunate than themselves
  • In the first instance, people might help other members of their own family
  • They might also help their local community, giving their time and money to support specific projects
  • Many people also give money to support the work of charities helping individuals, families and communities in Britain and abroad. 
  • Religions teach that responsible use of money helps a person's spiritual growth
  • Along with performing religious observances (e.g. prayer), it will help them to earn good karma or to be seen as worthy of entering heaven.
  • Many teach their children from a young age that it is a good thing to raise or save money to donate to charity and help the less fortunate. 
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Religious attitudes to the responsible use of mone

What each religion teaches

Christianity

  • Christianity teaches that excess wealth should be shared with the poor
  • Most church communities, including youth organisations, get involved in raising money to support charity work.
  • Christians remember Jesus teaching his followers that the poor would always be with them and that people should do what they can to help them
  • He told several rich people to give their riches to the poor
  • He also praised a poor widow for giving a tiny amount (which she probably could not afford) to the poor, saying she had in fact given more than the rich who had given larger amounts.
  • He said that this is the way to build 'riches in heaven'
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Religious attitudes to the responsible use of mone

Islam:

  • Islam teaches that the value of money is in what it can do, rather than in what it is. 
  • Muslims believe that because wealth is a blessing from Allah, it should be used wisely fro the benefit of the poor, as well as for oneself.
  • Often families will help each other to provide assistance with business  opportunities and interest-free loans.
  • Zakah, the third pillar, ensures that all Muslims give 2.5% of their wealth to the poor every year. 
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Who cares?

What are the options?

  • Most people, whether religious or not, agree that we should look after the poor in our society
  • Taxpayers pay their taxes so that local government can provide some types of care on behalf of us all. 
  • Families may be in a position to help poorer family members
  • Other people raise or donate money to charities and religious organisations to support the work they do with the poor in our communities .
  • 'Love your neighbour as you love yourself'
  • 'Do not do to another what you do not like to be done to yourself'
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Who cares?

LOCAL AUTHORITIES

  • Local authorities have a responsibility to care for the poor and vulnerable in our communities.
  • The services they provide include:

Social workers to assist individuals and families in need or at risk

People to advise the poor in *** best to provide for themselves an their families

Support workers to give practical help to the elderly and others who find it difficult to cope on their own

  • Local authorities also provide houses or flats for rent, which is subsidised through housing benefit if a person cannot afford it.
  • However, there is only a limited supply of accommodation and long waiting lists.
  • Factors for prioritising include whether the family has young children or the applicant has become homeless to escape domestic violence.
  • The ability to pay is not considered.
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Who cares?

CHARITIES AND RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS

  • Charities also offer practical support to the poor
  • This includes collecting and redistributing second-hand clothes and household goods to families in need, supporting children (NSPCC) and the Children's society and supporting the elderly (Help The Aged)
  • Some charities, such as the Salvation Army, are run by religious organisations
  • Charities are very much dependent on the generosity of ordinary people, many of who raise funds and donate money to keep the charity work going.
  • Or even devote their own time to work voluntarily.
  • Religious people might see their involvement as a vocation or a calling from God.
  • Some charities also receive money from the National Lottery
  • However, charities can provide help only for as long as the money comes in.
  • If the money runs out, the work stops.
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Who cares?

FAMILIES

  • Many people say that relatives should help family members who fall on hard times
  • Whilst in many cases this actually happens, in others it is not possible
  • Some people are in need because of a breakdown in the family itself.
  • There can be many reasons for this type of a breakdown, which can happen in poor and wealthy families, and these include, abuse, arguments with partners and addiction. 
  • However, most families who are considered to be financially poor manage to provide enough to ensure that the family home is stable and offers support when needed.
  • A family unit can be successful even if it has only just enough money for necessities such as food, clothes and shelter.
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Lotto - the National Lottery

The Lottery is born

  • On 19 November 1994, after much advance publicity and months of preparation, the National Lottery was drawn live on national television for the first time.
  • Many critics have argued that the National lottery is nothing more than an extra voluntary tax paid by the poor in the vain hope of winning enough to take them out of the poverty trap. 
  • After all, the rich have no need to buy a ticket because, although winning would be nice, it would not have such a dramatic effect on their lives.
  • In addition, there is debate about the risk of an 'unsuitable' person winning.
  • There have been instances in which convicted criminals or people whose behaviour is antisocial end up with millions of pounds which many people feel they don't deserve and/or can't cope with.
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Lotto - the National Lottery

Money to good causes

  • One of the 'big selling points' is that, for every £1 staked on the National Lottery, 28 pence is given to 'good causes'. 
  • Currently, over £21 billion have been distributed to these good causes.
  • There are four categories of good cause:

arts (16.67%)

heritage (16.67%)

sport (16.67%)

health, education, the environment and charitable expenditure (50%)

  • Whilst most people approve of at least some of these categories, some grants have attracted criticism. 
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Lotto - the National Lottery

Religious attitudes to the National Lottery

Islam:

  • Forbid any form of gambling, including the National Lottery, as it is seen as a way of earning money that does not involve doing honest work
  • Can promote greed and encourage laziness
  • Money should be used for the necessities of life and not for speculating to win more
  • For every person who becomes richer as a result of gambling, many others become poorer
  • Will not bid for lottery funding for projects supported by their faith, whether it is for the upkeep of places of worship or to support charity organisations they run.
  • 'Wine and games of chance are abominations devised by Satan. Avoid them, so that you may prosper.'
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Lotto - the National Lottery

Christianity:

  • Some denominations (Methodists) share these views on gambling.
  • But other denominations (Church of England, Roman Catholics), whilst not actively encouraging gambling, will allow believers to gamble in moderation.
  • 'Good causes' funds have been used by some Christian charities and the Heritage Fund has provided finance for the upkeep of churches and cathedrals.
  • 'Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.'
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Winner's stories

£10 million winner John McGuinness 

  • In January 1997 John  McGuinness , a hospital porter, earning around £150 per week won a huge sum of money on the National Lottery.
  • Eleven years later, his personal wealth had gone and he was in debt and looking for work.
  • His house had been repossessed and luxury items such as cars, jewellery and a holiday villa were sold in order to meet some of his debts.
  • The main cause for his downfall was his investment in his favourite football team - Livingston FC. 
  • He used his fortune to guarantee loans made to the club and, when the club went bankrupt, he found himself owing millions of pounds to creditors - money he no longer had.
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Winner's stories

£17.9 million pound winner Muslim Mukhtar Mohidin

  • In December 1994, Mukhtar Mohidin, a Muslim from Blackburn won a huge sum of money on the National Lottery.
  • Despite trying to keep his win secret, news about it leaked out.
  • The problem was that, according to Muslim beliefs about gambling, Mukhtar should not have bought a lottery ticket in the first place.
  • Mukhtar decided to provide £300,000 for a community centre to be built alongside a Mosque.
  • However in 1998, after the foundations and steelwork had been completed, the project ground to a halt when it was discovered that most of the funding had come from Mukhtar's lottery winnings.
  • No other Muslim source of funding will pay for it to be completed because of this.
  • Whilst Mukhtar is still able to enjoy his lottery winnings, he has changed his name and moved away from his friends and family.
  • In 1998, after court battles caused by some family members trying to claim some of his fortune, his wife Sayeeda divorced him after 17 years of marriage.
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