“Poverty is not just a lack of money; it is not having the capability to realise one’s full potential as a human being” —Amartya Sen
By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
The scripture readings for this Sunday should really spur us on to seek to reduce/eradicate grinding poverty and social exclusion that stultify the development of so many.
One would have to be heartless not to be moved to act when one reads the dramatic language used in Amos 6:1, 4–7 and reflect on the vivid imagery that disturb our mind in the gospel reading, Luke 16:19–31: the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
I recall years ago when I passed my MEd in London, my friend’s bosses, a couple, treated both of us to a cruise on their luxury yacht from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat all along the coast in the French Riviera.
My social conscience was disturbed by the constant partying, the daily wastage of food, etc. The juxtaposition of the opulence in the large floating hotels with their fine linen, and owners and guests “feasting magnificently every day” in a country/world in which there is so much poverty, made me feel uncomfortable.
In November 2018, Pope Francis said the poor were weeping “while the wealthy few feast on what, in justice, belongs to all. Injustice is the perverse root of poverty. The cry of the poor daily becomes stronger but every day heard less.” That cry is “drowned out by the din of the rich few, who grow ever fewer and more rich…we Christians cannot stand with arms folded in indifference or with arms outstretched in helplessness…it is important for all of us to live our faith in contact with those in need.” The Holy Father has also criticised excessive capitalism and the idolatry of money.
T&T is considered a middle-income country. It is clear that there remains a yawning gap between the haves and have nots here. And with the large number of persons who have lost their jobs in the last two years, it may well be that the percentage of persons living in poverty has increased from the current 20 plus per cent. One only has to drive around the capital of our country to see Lazarus at every turn.
But it’s not only T&T that faces the challenge of poverty reduction/eradication. While I was in London recently, I read about new research released in August 2019 that reveals that a homeless person is dying every 19 hours in Britain.
The study found that at least 235 people affected by homelessness died over the six months prior to August, an average of one every 19 hours. “But campaigners warn the true number is likely to be much higher because official data can be difficult to locate and acquire.
The figures were obtained by the Museum of Homelessness organisation as part of its ‘Dying Homeless Project’ and is a continuation of a study first carried out by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
“The data comes from coroners’ enquiries, media coverage, family testimony and freedom of information requests. According to campaigners more than 30% of fatalities since 2017 have occurred where people were in emergency or temporary accommodation” (https://welfareweekly.com/).
In 2016, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks. But such action is just sticking plaster to the structural injustice that fuels poverty and social exclusion.
Rehman Sobhan rightly states that “initiatives to reduce poverty, whether through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), through enhancing the flow of resources into poverty reduction programmes, may not be fruitful unless policymakers address the structural sources of the problem which create and perpetuate poverty.”
Global statistics highlight the scourge of poverty, with 22,000 children dying each day due to poverty (UNICEF)—in a world in which, according to Forbes, there are 2,153 billionaires. In total, the ultra-rich are worth US$8.7 trillion. Interestingly, 13 of the top 20 on this list are American citizens. In 2018, there were 38.1 million people living in poverty in the USA— approximately 1.4 million fewer people than 2017 (https://www.census.gov/).
Will issues of inequity, inequality and structural injustice be addressed effectively in T&T’s upcoming budget? Nelson Mandela was right, “as long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”