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Pointing out poverty

Poverty is obvious; we read the signs of poverty in people’s appearance, their state of health, their presence. On TV, poverty is malnourished children and windswept refugees fleeing warzones.

That’s because poverty is also relative; that fact is reflected in the UN’s eight anti-poverty millennium goals, that are wrapping up this year:
to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
to achieve universal primary education
to promote gender equality and empower women
to reduce child mortality
to improve maternal health
to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
to ensure environmental sustainability
to promote global partnership for development.

millenium goals

See the links below for more information:


The UN member states can’t pretend to have met these goals fully or in some cases even partially, but without goals there is nothing to aim for. The millennium goals shaped a worthy and ‘broad vision to fight poverty and combat numerous issues hampering development progress’.

You can see the progress appraisals here 

It is true to say that, in terms of feeding people, that we have made progress over past decades. The contemporary indicators for world hunger are better than they were in the 1980s.

As for The Salvation Army and its stance on poverty, Captain Jason Davies-Kildea (see column, above) says that in some sense The Salvation Army has demonstrated some sense of fellow feeling and solidarity with the Catholic Church’s theology of the ‘preferential option for the poor’.

‘For The Salvation Army, it’s more about equity of resources and the sharing of those resources justly,’ Jason explains. ‘Our history and theology have sometimes been described by critics as “socialist”, a position that the co-Founder General William Booth used to be accused of occupying.

‘Our Salvation Army notion of “boundlessness”, and a “boundless salvation” open to everyone, means that in a society of wealth we shouldn’t have children starving, or being exploited, or families living without shelter.’

Here in Australia, poverty rarely ends in starvation or death from exposure. So, what does poverty look like down under?

Poverty is when something goes wrong and there’s no money in the kitty to meet the emergency. It’s when you cannot pay to get a tooth pulled, or a filling fixed. When you can’t afford to get help and support from a GP or a medical specialist, or get the prescriptions filled thereafter.

For many Australians, it means not having at least one decent meal each day, or going without food so you can feed the kids. It’s a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Poverty is not buying presents for the family or friends, not having holidays, not participating. At this intrinsic level, for dependents, it’s being on the sidelines, socially, unable to participate in school or out of school activities. Not having the internet on to do your homework. It’s being teased by classmates for not having a uniform, or having unwashed clothes and uncut hair. It’s the visual tell tales of not having school books or lunch.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) says that in contemporary Australia, when we look at average wealth, a rich person now has 70 times more wealth than someone measured in the ‘lowest wealth group’; those we label ‘the poor’. 

The rich put their resources into property, shares and superannuation. Those less well off ‘hold their wealth in lower value items like cars and home contents.’ But those without wealth have nothing. Material possessions run a very poor second to having something to eat, some clothes to wear and somewhere safe to sleep for the night. 

Poverty stems from inequality; an unfair and unjust reality. Research cited by ACOSS suggests that ‘countries with lower inequality tend to have faster and more lasting economic growth; and that countries with high inequality can experience high levels of violence,  suicide, obesity, mental illness, imprisonment and shorter life expectancy’.

Inequality means people are born or fall into poverty; from that state they are less likely than affluent people to ‘get a loan to start a business or pay for an advanced university degree…

Wealthier people can afford not to rely on shared services, such as public schools and public hospitals, by utilising private services. When this happens, they have less interest in supporting such shared services, leading to a more divided society.’

We can’t write people off, not if we want to live with ourselves. They can’t ‘eat cake’ instead of bread, when they have neither and can’t afford either.

You are encouraged to participate and support Anti-Poverty Week, established in Australia as an expansion of the UN's annual International Anti-Poverty Day on October 17. In 2015 Anti-Poverty Week is from 11-17 October. Some activities are organised by ‘welfare and health organisations, religious groups, community organisations, schools and youth groups. Many other types of organisation also arrange activities, including government departments, local councils, business organisations, universities and sporting and cultural groups.’
– Barry Gittins
Click here for the Anti-Poverty Week site 

Click here for more information at acoss.org.au

Click here for a Salvation Army take on poverty and Anti-Poverty Week

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