Perhaps we’re uncomfortable by its proximity, or scared-off by the inevitable links with alcohol, drugs, crime and abuse. Maybe the remoteness of poverty far away in the developing world seems somehow less challenging to us than the problems of our own communities, which can seem difficult and complex.
The truth is of course that all poverty is difficult and complex to resolve, and it can be easy to forget that across the rich world there are millions of people living lives of hardship and deprivation – perhaps just a few streets away, unseen behind closed doors.
In the UK over 13 million people, live on less than 60% of the median national income level, the most commonly cited level of relative poverty, including 1.3 million children living in severe poverty. While not the absolute poverty seen in the developing world, millions of families routinely have to choose between heating their home and food, who can’t clothe their children properly, struggle with social exclusion and unemployment and all too often find themselves weighed down with debt.
For those of us living more comfortable lives, this poverty in our midst can sometimes be difficult to understand.
Listening to the stories of the poor themselves, often gives the best insight:
Claire – from Hull (from Barnados)
“My daughter Ruby (age 4) knows – she could see me worrying about it. I couldn’t believe it when she said ‘don’t worry mummy I won’t have a birthday present this year.’ That made me cry so much, I felt so guilty for not being able to give them more.”
Claire lives with her four children, aged 18 to 4, who don’t have the same opportunities as many others, sometimes missing out on birthday presents, the right school uniform or school trips.
Denise – from Birmingham (from the Joseph Roundtree Foundation)
Denise is a single parent with two children, who works 16 hours a week. Due to a delay in her payment one week, she found herself with no money at all left to give her children one Monday morning so they could have food at school. Denise knew she had £3 left in her bank account, but that the local cash machine would only pay out multiples of £10.
Denise had to phone her Mum and ask her to bring over some bus fare so that Denise could get the bus to the nearest branch of the bank, and withdraw her £3, so she could give her children (who were still waiting to go to school) £1 each for lunch.
Anthony - from Tyne and Wear (from the BBC)
“I just don’t know what the future holds for us as a family”
“Two years ago my wife was diagnosed with myeloma cancer. It meant I had to give up my job to look after her. At the time I was paying £40 per month dual fuel, then it went up, the company told me I would have to go to £80 pounds per month. I have recently received another letter saying I now need to pay £115 per month, from my £220 per month carer’s allowance. Needless to say my savings have disappeared over the last two years.
The better news is my wife is in remission and she will return to her part-time job at the local school. We do not know yet how we will pay the bills. In the last couple of months my gas, water, electric, media services, TV Licence and life and home insurances have escalated – and now my mortgage, but my carer’s allowance has not changed!”
Ultimately eradicating poverty, whether globally or locally, will require a significant change to our systems and structures, but in the meantime there are many national or local groups already working to make a real difference, and transform the lives of those most in need . . .
. . . you might want to consider lending them your support.