16-22 October is National Anti-Poverty Week
This year, National Anti-Poverty Week has become personal. It is not something that faces others far away from us but looms in an uncertain future as a risk for everyone. The rising cost of living, of mortgages and of renting, together with the uncertainty of income make homelessness something to reckon with. We have also seen dramatically the face of poverty in people left homeless after the massive floods this year. The massive profits that so many large companies have made and the ability that their power gives them to raise prices for their services, too, have made us see inequality as an urgent problem.
In the coming year, poverty will not be something out there, but something that we will brush up against in our families and in our local streets. It will not be simply a social problem but will wear the faces of people whom we know and have met or whom we see and hear through the media. Poverty may wear the faces of ourselves and of our children.
National Anti-Poverty Week, of course, reminds us that this has always been the case: poverty is always about people and their suffering, and only secondly about statistics and economic settings. It is about hunger, anxiety at where the next meal will come from for ourselves and our children, shame at not being able to afford the money needed for our daughter’s school camp, the humiliation of spending nights in the family car while seeking accommodation.
As we reflect on the human cost of poverty, we are reminded that human flourishing is about enlarged possibility – to live, to have access to medical care, to build new relationships, to find work, to travel, to study, to join community groups, to develop our talents. Poverty is about the loss of possibility. We struggle to exist; we scrimp on health care; we move from place to place with the result that our children find it hard to learn and to make friends; any work we have is insecure; we cannot explore our world; we lose friends and have only temporary acquaintances. We lose our public faces and our nation loses its true wealth.
At Jesuit Social Services, we see in poverty the faces of many of the vulnerable young people with whom we work. In their childhood, many have been deprived of so much. Through our accompaniment, we help them find possibilities. They may also have found encouragement in the face of the person who stops to talk, who is interested in their lives, who can put them in touch with kind and generous people and with agencies they may not have known about, and who care for them as persons. That interest and affection are so often the first step to finding new possibilities and to make new connections.
Poverty, of course, also has a political face. Societies in which many people live in poverty while the wealth of the few grows massively have neglected their charge to care for the good of all their people, especially the most vulnerable. Such neglect is a sign that those with power see the good of society as secured by economic competition between individuals and cosy deals between the wealthy. Governments then neglect their responsibility to serve the good of all people in society, especially the most deprived. They have the duty to ensure that prosperity is shared across the world, and that the prosperity of the few is not built on the poverty of many. Poverty arises from the virus of selfishness. Its healing comes through the vaccination of solidarity.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.