Living with Unfairness
What is it like to be treated unjustly by the people in power?
by Kathy Lee
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To use Roman times to help us consider what it is like to be treated unfairly.
Preparation and materials
You will need the following images and the means to display them during the assembly:
- a Celtic hut or village, available at: http://tinyurl.com/h6fk53h or http://tinyurl.com/j7dcvt4
- a tax collector in Roman times, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hg37gz6
- a Roman city in flames, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hzva46t
- fighting, available at: http://tinyurl.com/gmrartw
Note: the story in this assembly is fictitious, but there may be children present who have lived through wars and may have been displaced from their homes. Sensitivity will be required.
When you grow up and get a job, you will probably have to pay tax to the government. This means that some of the money you earn gets taken away to pay for things like hospitals, schools, the army, the roads and everything that is needed to run the country.
In Roman times, do you think people had to pay taxes?
The answer is ‘Yes, they did!’ Tax collectors went around the whole country, visiting every place that had been conquered by the Roman army. If people had no money, the tax collector would take some of their food instead, or their animals or even sell the people as slaves so that they could get their money! Some of the money that tax collectors gathered was used for things like road building. Some was taken by the Roman emperor to spend as he liked.
The following extract is taken from The Edge of the Empire, a book by Kathy Lee. It is about a young British boy called Bryn, who was captured after Queen Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans. After spending some years in Rome, Bryn tried to find his way back to Britain, to his home village. However, first, he had to go through the lands of another tribe, called the Trinovantes . . .
The Trinovantes had taken part in Queen Boudicca’s rebellion along with my own tribe. They had been punished for it. Four years later, the signs of that punishment could still be seen.
We passed the burnt-out remains of villages that had never been rebuilt. Perhaps there was no one to mend them because the people had been killed or enslaved. On land that had once been farmed, weeds were growing and wild deer were grazing.
There were other villages where life went on, except that there were hardly any men to be seen. Women and young children were doing the work of men. When we tried to buy food, there wasn’t much to be had, and there were still months until harvest time.
One afternoon, a bad storm forced us to take shelter in a village. The people were wary of us at first. But then a woman took pity on us and let us enter her hut.
‘You belong to the Iceni tribe?’ she asked me, looking at my cloak.
‘Yes, but I haven’t seen my homeland since the year of the great battle. I was captured and sold as a slave. Now I’m going home.’
‘Well, you’d better expect a few changes.’ She gave a harsh laugh. ‘From what I hear, the Iceni are even worse off than we are.’
‘You mean, because the Romans took revenge on them?’
She started to speak, then gave a frightened glance towards Felix. Anyone could see he was a Roman.
‘It’s all right,’ I said. ‘He doesn’t understand our language.’
‘The Romans are killing us,’ she said. ‘They killed our men in the great battle. Now they’re killing the rest of us, making us pay taxes that we can’t afford. You can see how little we have! Our children are hungry. But before we put food in their stomachs, we have to pay the fat-bellied tax collectors! And if we can’t pay, our sons are taken away and sold.’
I began to feel angry. ‘Are the Romans still taking revenge for the rebellion? It was four years ago. Haven’t they punished us enough?’
‘People say the Romans will never forget what Queen Boudicca did to them.’
I had heard what our men did when they conquered Roman-built cities. Queen Boudicca had been tortured by the Romans. So her army took revenge by torturing the Roman women, before killing everyone and burning the cities to the ground. Now the Romans, in turn, were getting their revenge. When would it ever end?
Don had been listening. He looked furious.
‘We should rise up against them!’ he said. ‘We should all unite – all the tribes of Britain. Together, we can drive the Romans into the sea!’
‘It’s too late for that,’ the woman said. ‘We have no warriors left here, only boys and old men. And no weapons either. We are finished.’
How would you feel if your country had been invaded by an enemy, and then you had to pay tax to the enemy, even if you couldn’t afford it? Would you think it was unfair? What would you do about it? You could rebel against the enemy, like Queen Boudicca did. But did that really solve the problem?
In many countries, people are living with unfairness. They have to pay taxes that they can’t afford, and the government wastes the money. Sometimes, the people in power spend it on themselves, building big houses and saving up money in the bank, while the poor people go hungry. Not all governments are good. Not all of the people in power deserve to be there – some are selfish and greedy.
What would you do if that was happening to you? Would you speak up and say that the government was unfair? You might end up in prison for speaking out. Would you try to rise up against the government even though they have a strong army to keep them in power? Would you want to leave your country and live somewhere else, where life was fairer? You might feel that you were caught in a trap, with no way out.
Time for reflection
Unfortunately, today, people are facing dilemmas all over the world as to whether they should stand up against unjust governments or flee from war-stricken countries. Most people want to live in peace and security with their friends and families.
What can we do to live in peace with those around us today?
We pray for people living in countries where life is unfair,
Where the government is greedy and cruel,
Where people who speak the truth can be put in prison,
And where the army can shoot people who have done nothing wrong.
We pray for justice and fairness in every country of the world,
For good governments and for peace.
‘If I had a hammer’ (Come and Praise, 71)