Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Poor lore

How often do you hear people wash their hands of poverty by saying "You'll never get rid of poverty, it's too big a problem. You just have to accept that some people are well-off and some aren't"?

Christian Aid is running some rather good adverts pointing out all the other big problems that people once dismissed as unsolvable - and were proved wrong. Ending poverty, says the ad, is no bigger than:

Eradicating smallpox
Liberating Europe from the Nazis
Putting a man on the moon
Bailing out the banks
Abolishing slavery
Ending apartheid
Bringing down the Berlin Wall
Creating the Internet
Digging a tunnel from England to France

"We're humans, we do big tasks" the ad ends. In other words, if we really want to achieve something, we can. It only takes the political will and the collective belief that the aim can be achieved. If we really think poverty is unacceptable in the 21st century, if we really want to wipe it out, then we can.

It's not a fact of life. It's not a fact of nature. It's a result of the way we organise our societies and it can be changed if we decide to organise things differently.

This isn't just a minor issue. Some 13 million people in the UK - 22 per cent of the population - are living in poverty*. That includes around 4 million children and 2½ million elderly people.

How can anybody simply shrug off these statistics as an unsolvable problem? How can anybody be blasé about people who can't afford to eat, heat their home, or buy new clothes? They wouldn't be so blasé if it was their own aunt counting the pennies and going without food.

I'll give my vote to the first politician who seriously reduces poverty instead of merely promising to do so. But it's funny how other things always get priority. What was that about bailing out the banks?

* Normally defined as 60 per cent or less of the average household income (or is that median?)

Jenny and I finally met up with John Self, who writes the wonderful book blog John Self's Shelves, and his wife and little boy. John is just as funny and perceptive in the flesh as he is on his blog, and Mrs S is lovely too. It's always fun meeting another blogger and seeing if they match up with the mental picture....


Thriftcriminal said...

Median household income as I understand it, so not quite the same thing. But that is really irrelevant, you are spot on, this is something people should be getting behind in a much bigger way, but it needs leadership and vision, qualities that are all too often squandered on profitable endeavours. Some of the things on the list are obviously profitable, others less so, so perhaps there is a chance.

Caro said...

Excellent comparisons. I'd love to see everyone involved in the bank bailout condemned to council houses with poor facilities and not enough money to make ends meet. Money is such a lottery of birth, for the most part.

Grannymar said...

We the little people can only do so much, the direction and example needs to come from the top.

Nick said...

Thrifty - Ah, leadership and vision, they're pretty scarce qualities in the political world right now. If only.

Caro - Good idea, put all the bankers in a tatty council house for a week. That would open their eyes a bit.

Grannymar - Indeed, all we can do ourselves is witness the poverty and wonder why so little is being done about it.

Baino said...

I remember Bob Hawke making an election promise years ago that 'no Australian child shall live in poverty by 2000'. He was voted in ... nothing changed. As for third world poverty we as countries in the west have vested interest in countries with low wages, sweat shops and cheap produce. We benefit from their poverty.

Wisewebwoman said...

Sometimes there are candles in the darkness. I was at a workshop about 10 years ago and a veep from Panasonic was there and mentioned offhandedly that Panasonic's global mission was to eradicate child poverty and had set up a foundation to do so.
The problem is rampant capitalism and too few of the Masters of the Universe are willing to follow the Panasonics, Gates Foundation, Jolie-Pitts, etc.
For instance, Walmart donates zero.

Rummuser said...

Nick, I am yet to come across any instance of any kind of governmental intervention that does anything remotely capable of removing poverty. I see many initiatives in my country and it is all just hogwash to siphon off tax payer money to pocket a variety of middle men.

On the other hand, there have been many initiatives by Non Governmental Organizations, which have done some remarkable work in India and some parts of Africa. Some Religious orders too have been very successful in such initiatives.

We little people, as Grannymar so eloquently puts it, can do what we can by financially supporting or offering personal inputs and labour for such initiatives. I am active in a few, one about which I have blogged too.

The problem is not with resources. The problem is with the haves never having enough and the resources getting cornered by them. This happens at both micro and macro levels and I can wax eloquent for hours on this subject, as I am sure you can and many other readers of your blog.

Brighid said...

I find myself disagreeing with the premise that we as little people can do nothing. There are a lot more of us than them. But then if we take up the task at hand, step up, do we become one of the haves? And then what happens? I've never understood the idea that we all need to be the haves. Rummuser has the way of it, I'm thinking.

Nick said...

Baino - True, we all benefit from third world poverty in terms of lower prices - which also encourages us to buy more than we need. If we had to pay realistic prices for everything, it would reduce both poverty and rampant materialism.

www - Yes, at least there are some businesses and individuals trying to tackle the problem. As for Walmart, I don't think the term "social conscience" has ever entered their executives' minds.

Ramana - Agreed, there are many non-governmental organisations doing a lot to reduce poverty. The St Vincent de Paul Society is one major example. How right you are about the haves never having enough. There's always some high-status item they absolutely must buy or their lives are incomplete.

Brighid - Well, there are things we can do as individuals, but their effect is very limited. We need a massive cultural shift from tolerating poverty to finding it totally unacceptable. And I think the problem is not being a have but being a never-have-enough.

Liz said...

I always think of the story of the child and his grandparent walking along the shore and the old man throws a starfish back into the sea. the child asks what difference it will make as there are loads of starfish on the beach and the old man replies that it makes a difference to the one starfish. Enough of us doing something to help will make a difference.

Nick said...

Liz - I know that story, it's a good one. Well, certainly what difference we can make as individuals is better than doing nothing at all....

Liz said...

"We need a massive cultural shift from tolerating poverty to finding it totally unacceptable."

The trouble is that we are naturally self-centred and selfish, partly I suppose to do with the unconscious idea of survival of the fittest, ensuring our line can continue. then in some - in many - it becomes simple greed. I'm not sure whether we, as a race, can ever change that significantly.

How depressing a thought is that?! On this grey, wet Tuesday? I shall go into the kitchen, put on the Mamma Mia cd and bake sultana bread for Zac's - and try to stop Husband eating too much of it. (It is excepetionally yummy.)

Nick said...

Liz - But survival is a collective thing, we rely on other people to help us survive, so it shouldn't turn into something selfish. But of course it does, we also have this urge to hoard things for our own pleasure and not share them with others.

Sultana bread, where, where? Go on, send us a bit....