As followers of Jesus, it is our duty to stand for those less fortunate then ourselves. God himself chose to come down to earth, not as a king or a rich man, but as a man from a poor family. God has a love for people who have the least as they are the most marginalised, most vulnerable and most forgotten in society. Poverty means much more than how much money a person has, it is also a question of access to what humans have a right to such as food, education, water that is clean and medicine. However, it goes further than material need. People who have no family or friends can also experience a type of poverty. Individuals too can be in poverty if they lack purpose in their life. Mother Teresa summarises this well by saying “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty”.
It is important to remember that God did not create poverty. Instead poverty is a result of injustice in the world, created by humans. Individuals and countries exploit others, taking what is not theirs, making unfair deals and taking advantage of those who have no choice but to comply. The gap between the rich and the poor is getting bigger as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is shown in the UK where 44% of the wealth is owned by just 10% of the population, making it the fifth most unequal country in Europe.
Today, the worlds richest 1% of people own 45% of the worlds wealth. Popularum Progressio, an encyclical by Pope Paul VI, highlights the need for change not just within countries, but on this global scale. Writing in 1967, Pope Paul says “unless the existing machinery is modified, the disparity between rich and poor nations will increase rather than diminish; the rich nations are progressing with rapid strides while the poor nations move forward at a slow pace.” This widening gap is something that we need to protect those in poverty against. It is our duty to share what we have with the poor, both locally and world wide. St. Ambrose summarised this duty well when he said "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich." It is the duty of those who are able, to fight for the rights of those who are poor, and ensure their voices are heard. Promoting equality of everyone on earth, addressing their immediate needs, but also challenging the systems and people who are causing poverty.
Countries such as Brazil have millions of people living in poverty. In order to find economic prosperity, people (often young people) leave their family and their villages, heading to the cities in order to earn money through working in factories. This leaves their family and community without help at home or if they are farmers, help on the farm. Villages in areas like Caatinga, north west Brazil are left without strong capable individuals to help out in the community, forcing families into further poverty. Those who do leave head to large cities like Sau Paulo in the hopes of finding a job. Many jobs, such as those in drinks factories, pay low wages and require long working hours. As a result people are forced to make their own houses where they can, often on the outskirts of the city, in order to have a place to sleep. These favelas are overcrowded, diseased and unsanitary places to live, but for most people it is their only way of affording to live. Both those who stay and those who leave, experience great poverty with little or no hope of escape.
Poverty is a relative term. People in Britain can experience poverty too, despite living in one of the richest nations in the world. In the UK 19% of people are considered to be in absolute poverty. People in absolute poverty can be destitute, unable to afford to eat, keep warm in their homes, clean and can come to rely on loans with high interest rates. It is easy to assume that those in poverty in Britain are so because they don’t have a job. However, higher costs of living, unreliable working patterns and low paid jobs mean that people who work can still be in poverty. 57% of people living in poverty in the UK are in house holds where at least one person works . Poverty is also a big issue for single parents (who are twice as likely to be in poverty), and families with more than one child, it is believed that approximately 3.7 million children are in poverty in Britain.
Poverty concerns more than just a persons material possessions. People can experience moral poverty and poverty of the spirit, not just material poverty. Loneliness in Britain is becoming an increasing issue, with some people referring to this issue as a loneliness epidemic. Age UK estimated that in 2016 there were 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK. However, it is not just elderly people who are lonely, the Red Cross believes that 9 million people of all ages, in the UK are often or always lonely. Social media has played a part in recent years, as people are swapping physical and genuine relationships with quick interactions online and via the phone. Poverty is wide spread across the world and can take different forms, be it physical, material or psychological.
What can you do?
- Treat everyone you meet with love and care, they are the face of Christ.
- Visit people you think may be feeling lonely, check up on them every once in a while.
- Donate food to the local food bank.
- Challenge your family and friends negative views on poverty.
- Write a blog or article on poverty .
- Get some ideas for action from our CST page on standing in solidarity with those in poverty, being sure you pledge your action here.