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Poverty: what is our response?

So often the ‘congestion of life’ provides less time to appreciate the gift of life and to reflect on the moments and insights from each day. However, since reading the 2008 Social Justice Sunday Statement, A Rich Young Nation: The challenge of affluence and poverty in Australia, I have found myself being drawn back to this statement especially the meaning of the words ‘invitation’ and ‘challenge’.

What do they mean in my life and how do they impact upon me? As I reflect on my daily encounters and the news of the day, how will I respond and make a difference in my community and our world to the challenge, the invitation or the challenging invitation?

In the next few weeks our world acknowledges such significant events as:

  • World Food Day (October 16)
  • International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17)
  • Remembering Uluru handed back to the traditional owners (October, 26 1985)
  • International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25)
  • Human Rights Day (December 10)

As believers of the Good News of Jesus, what is your response to these events as you reflect on the following information?

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is recognised on October 17. The theme for this year’s observance is “Human Rights and Dignity of People Living in Poverty”.

Global perspective

  • More than one billion people in the world live on less than one dollar a day. In total, 2.7 billion struggle to survive on less than two dollars per day.
  • Poverty in the developing world… means having to walk more than one mile everyday simply to collect water and firewood; it means suffering diseases that were eradicated from rich countries decades ago.
  • Every year eleven million children die; most under the age of five and more than six million from completely preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.

Source: Millennium Project: The Faces of Poverty
Further Information: FACT SHEET The UN System Response to the World Food Security Crisis

Australian perspective
Australia is a society divided along lines of wealth and opportunity. The differences between the highest and lowest income earners are growing, and Australia has one of the greatest income disparities among the developed nations. (Hugh Mackay, Advance Australia… where? How we’ve changed, why we’ve changed, and what will happen next, Hachette, Sydney, 2007, pp.83-84).

According to one estimate, 4.52 million Australians live in households whose gross income is less than $400 per week. (John Falzon, “Stats and stones: Vinnies’ report from the trenches on the poverty wars”, Online Opinion, July 7, 2005).

Picture a fairly typical single-parent family living in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. One child suffers from asthma. The mother receives about $400 per week from Centrelink to meet the costs of food, shelter, utilities and other essentials. Typical weekly costs are likely to include $160 for rent, $150 for food, $35 for electricity and water and $30 for phone and pharmaceuticals. (Figures from Catholic welfare agencies and based on Centrelink payments and average rental costs).

The total expenditure is $375. This does not include clothing, medical expenses, transport or school costs or haircuts or occasional treats. Such a family faces a life of constant juggling and going without to avoid deepening debt.

Source: Social Justice Sunday Statement 2008

In light of the above information, what is the ‘challenge’ and the ‘invitation’ for you on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty? How do we acknowledge the Human Rights and Dignity of people living in poverty?

What changes will you make in your own life? How do these financial expenses compare with your own living expenses?

We cannot ignore this situation. We cannot ignore the PEOPLE of these statistics. How can this issue be kept on the social and political WORKING Agenda?

What are we currently doing together that is making a difference?

What else can we do together?

We remember that on October 26, 1985, Uluru was handed back to the traditional owners.

Despite significant events acknowledging Indigenous families and communities and numerous meetings to address various issues they still endure great poverty:

  • The rate of poverty endured by Indigenous people is two to three times greater than for other Australians.
  • Levels of unemployment are well over twice the rate for the general population in cities and regional centres, and higher still in remote areas.
  • The proportion of Indigenous teenagers not fully engaged in work or education is three times that of other young Australians. (Commonwealth of Australia, “Indigenous Potential meets Economic Prosperity”, Discussion paper, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, Canberra, 2006, p.4)
  • Indigenous people suffer ill-health and disability at far greater rates than non-Indigenous people. Their average life expectancy is 17 years shorter than for the general population.
  • Many remote communities lack a basic level of infrastructure… Housing is desperately overcrowded and lacking in basic requirements like sanitation and cooking facilities.

As a country with huge reserves of wealth, it is to our great shame that we have not met the needs of these, our sisters and brothers.

Source: Social Justice Sunday Statement 2008

Further Information: Australian Human Rights Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice

This is not new information so, why is there such disparity in living standards for Australians? In light of the above information, what is the ‘challenge’ and the ‘invitation’ as you consider this ongoing situation of Indigenous people? Is there any action you will take to respond to this marginalisation?

What is my obligation to address this issue?
What are we currently doing together that is making a difference?
What else can we do together?

“If one person is disadvantaged or left behind, we are all diminished.” (Social Justice Sunday Statement 2008)

“If we wish to sow the seeds of real hope in the world, I think Catherine McAuley would say: this is the way we must do it – one person at a time: one answering of the figurative doorbell, one opening of the figurative door, one embrace of the stranger, one welcoming of the other…one person at a time.” (Patricia Smith, Mercy Values Today: Ever ancient, ever new)

“The Word of God calls us to conversion, alerting us to the need for change and challenging us to see and act differently.” (Social Justice Sunday Statement 2008)

Contact: Carmel Heagerty RSM, Institute Justice Co-ordinator