Stories of Poverty from Just Down the Road

Sometimes it almost seems easier to focus our attention on the poverty and problems far away, than that right on our doorstep.

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.

Shelter, End Child Poverty, The Joseph Rountree Foundation, Christians Against Poverty,  Foodbank, Action Aid.

RELATED ARTICLES – Cold Cold Wind, Food Banks, 6 Ideas to Change What’s Outside Your Front Door

Living on a Landfill

In the rich West we usually forget where all the waste we throw away ends up, unless there is a landfill site not too far away from our house, in which case we might be concerned about potential health consequences, or the occasional unpleasant smell.

Yet around the globe hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, including many children, live and work on landfills and rubbish dumps, scraping a living from what the rich of their own societies throw away.

All live in desperate poverty with little in the way of health care or education, most are illiterate, and some will never have ever left the landfill on which they live.

In Indonesia over 2,000 families survive and make a living on the Bantar Gebang landfill outside Jakarta, typically earning the equivalent of £2.20 a day from the recyclables they scavenge. In Nicaragua, over a 1,00o people live and work on the huge La Chureca landfill, in a community which includes a school. At the Stung Meanchey landfill in Cambodia, 2,000 resident workers, more than 600 of them children, work, live, eat and play among the rubbish.

The disturbing winner of the CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the year 2011 competition depicts two young children clutching each other on a landfill in Kathmandu, Nepal. In the words of the photographer, Chan Kwok Hung:

“Every day they searched the junkyard for something useful that they can resell for money so they can buy food. If they don’t find anything their grandmother blamed them seriously. Unfortunately, they had found nothing for a few days, the little boy felt very hungry. I gave them some money and a biscuit after taking this photo. But who knows who will help them afterwards.”

The videos below show a child’s eye view of a life lived on two of the world’s landfills.

Photo by Marco Bullucci via Flickr

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An Avoidable Injustice – Not an Inevitable Condition

A guest blog by Natasha Adams, Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer for Concern Worldwide UK. Concern is an international humanitarian and development charity that operates in 25 countries. Natasha works on Concern’s Unheard Voices campaign, which champions the cause of smallholder farmers and works to reduce global hunger.

It’s clear the global food system is in crisis.

We live in a world where an astounding number of people go hungry every night, the latest estimate from the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) is that just under one billion people don’t have enough food – one in seven of us.

Even more than this suffer from malnutrition as they don’t have access to properly nutritious food. And these figures don’t take into account acute crises -in the Horn of Africa, more than 13 million people have been affected by food shortages since last year, and now 13 million more are at risk in the Sahel.

We get bombarded with these numbers all the time, yet they’re too big to make sense of.

Even if we stop and reflect that these statistics represent individual people – each with families and hopes like everyone else, the scale of the suffering is still unimaginable. To get my head around it, I try to imagine one in seven of my friends or family members as the ones who don’t have enough to eat. It’s can sometimes be easy to forget about hunger in far away places, but aren’t the values of human lives across the globe of equal worth? We may have got used to hunger in ‘Africa’ (although there are actually more hungry people in Asia), but it still matters and it can be changed.

It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way. We live in a world of plenty – farmers the world over actually produce more than enough food for everyone. As highlighted by Next Starfish, in wealthy countries like the UK, we throw away £20 billion worth of food a year, while one in seven humans go hungry because they either can’t grow enough food, or they can’t afford to buy enough.

Unfortunately, there is no single silver bullet to end global hunger. The problem is complex, and so are the answers, but workable solutions have been found on many levels and these solutions could be implemented if the public and political will was there.

Support to farmers is a good place to start, because ironically smallholders make up more than half of the world’s hungry people. Concern’s report Farming for Impact demonstrates that with the right support , smallholders can grow more, eat more and better food and even go on to employ others, helping their whole communities to thrive. The report also explores how the Rwandan Governments’ commitment to spend 10% of their budget on agriculture helped to increase staple crop production, and to shield the country from the food price rises experienced catastrophically elsewhere in East Africa last year.

The most obvious role the UK can play in tackling global hunger is through continuing to provide important aid.

On May 19th David Cameron will represent the UK at the G8 summit in the US. The previous G8 commitment to provide aid to tackle hunger (the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative) is coming to an end. A new commitment to tackle world hunger is clearly needed, and the UK is in a strong position to push for and follow through on this as we will be hosting the G8 in 2013. This is a good way for the UK to use its wealth and power to try and make meaningful progress towards ending global hunger – by pledging new funds and encouraging other countries to do the same.

If you would like to support Concern’s campaign for a new G8 hunger commitment, you can email your MP with our easy e-action.

But it’s not all about aid.

The UK is still a wealthy country, and because our economy is relatively large the way we do business has a big impact globally. One important driver of global food price rises is increasing food speculation on international markets, much of which is happening in the City of London. The organisation World Development Movement is running a campaign to raise awareness of this issue and support EU proposals to limit financial speculation on food prices.

Another factor driving high food prices is the amount of land turned over to growth of biofuels, and the charity Actionaid are currently running a petition in the UK to try and change UK and EU support on this issue.

I got involved in campaigning professionally to try and play a small role to right some of the world’s wrongs, but you don’t have to be a professional campaigner to help make a change.

By educating ourselves about issues and taking small actions to show you know and care about issue like hunger, everyone can make a difference and help to build political will for genuine change that will transform people’s lives across the globe.

Similar articles – Moving Mountains: Hunger and Waste in an Age of AusterityPlay Nice and ShareScrape Your Plate, GROW for Food Justice

Movie Night

No Impact Man - by Colin Beavan

Colin Beavan and his family decided to take a twelve month break from their fairly typical middle class New York life, and try to make their environmental impact as low as they could for a year.

They got rid of the TV, turned off the electricity, stopped using escalators and lifts, no cars or trains, no processed or fast food, no meat or fish, no packaging, no waste and ultimately no toilet paper !

The film is funny and honest in discussing many of the conflicting motivations and contradictions – is the family just ‘playing’ at simple living, is it all just clever marketing for his book and film, surely no one will be persuaded by his extreme experiment, isn’t this just about projecting his own guilt onto the audience ?

In the end the real value of the film is that it makes us question our own way of life, and our underlying values. Will having organic milk in our coffee or getting a water butt for the garden really save the world, is are we going to have to make far more radical changes to our lives ? Living our lives the same way as Colin and his family do in this film isn’t really any kind of ‘solution’, but they are trying, and at the end have much more of a personal road map. [Amazon]

The End of Poverty ? - by Philippe Diaz

The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation was set-up in the US in the 1920s to raise awareness and promote actions towards issues of economic justice. In 2007 the Foundation decided to produce a documentary film about the underlying causes of global poverty, and the role played by Western economies.

The film’s producer Philippe Diaz presents the case that in order to maintain our standard of life, the rich world has systematically controlled and limited the development of the world’s poorer countries, with the policies of the World Bank and IMF effectively keeping billions in poverty.

Presenting the lives of the global poor on our screens, along with a series of shocking facts concerning life expectancy, deaths from starvation, the lack of clean water or even basic medical care, makes the film powerful and intensely challenging, especially when contrasting this with the lives of many in the rich world.

The film also argues strongly that unless we change the structures which create poverty, aid, no matter how well meaning, will ultimately be ineffective in lifting the world’s poor out of poverty. [Amazon]


The Vanishing of the Beesby Holly Mosher

The Vanishing of the Bees by Holly Mosher, describes the phenomena of honey bee colony collapse disorder - the dramatic rise is sudden, unexplained honey bee colony deaths around the planet since around 2006. A vital pollinator, honey bees are crucial for the effective production of a wide range of agricultural crops in many parts of the world.

The film follows two commercial bee keepers Hackenberg and Mendes, as they explore the causes of colony collapse disorder, travelling across the world in their attempt to find answers.

The film explains well that the sudden decline in bee numbers appears to result from a combination of factors and doesn’t claim to have definitive proof, but it especially points a finger at the widespread use of neo-nicitinoid pesticides, and the effects of monoculture styles of agriculture. [Amazon]

Photo by Espensorvick, via Flickr

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Meet Narayanan Krishnan

A new series of ‘Meet….’ articles focussing on a diverse range of individuals, who are all currently working in their own way to try and make a positive difference in the world.

Krishnan was an award winning chef in a five-star Taj Hotel in Bangalore, when one day he saw an old man living on the street eating his own human waste out of hunger.

Shocked and moved, Krishnan started feeding the man, and then others, and before long had decided to leave his job, and devote all his time and his life savings to feeding the forgotten and uncared for hungry and destitute of his home city Madurai.

He founded the non-profit organisation Akshaya (undecaying or imperishable in Sanskrit), which now feeds over 400 people three meals a day. He takes no salary and for many years slept on the floor of the kitchen where he prepares the food. Akshaya is now also building shelters for Madurai’s homeless.

In 2010 Krishnan was named in the final 10 CNN’s Heroes of the Year.

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Photo from Abundancein10minutes