Global poverty has set up camp in our living rooms.
TV adverts that spew out horrific images of famine, conflict and desperate need seem to air at least once every ad break. We’ve got to know the facts and stats; the 1 billion on our planet that live in extreme poverty, the 150 million street children that represent three times the population of the UK. This cry of injustice is heard loud and clear, all the way from the other side of the world, into our ever day lives.
But there’s another shout rising up that we might not have paid much attention to. The 22% of the UK’s population that live below the income threshold, the 4000 people sleeping rough in London tonight. We hear the cry of injustice from afar, but do we hear it in our own communities? This cry is equally real and needs a response just as much as global poverty does. It’s easy to believe that poverty isn’t really an issue for us in the UK. We have huge relative wealth; a free healthcare system, a free education system, a Tesco Express on every street corner; already we’ve got way more than a rural village in Africa could boast.
But we stretch our understanding when we begin to play with the boundaries of what poverty actually means. Is it just how much money you have? Whether you have a bed to sleep in? Does it stretch as far as poverty of friendships? People who spend their entire days without speaking to or seeing another human being. Does it include poverty of language? Those living next door to us who don’t speak very much English so find it hard to communicate outside their families. When we play with the boundaries of poverty, we suddenly discover a whole number of people right under our noses who are in need.
The great news is that we’ve got so many opportunities to serve the poor and marginalised in the UK, opportunities that we may never get for those living overseas. It’s as simple as baking a cake for your neighbour, or buying a sandwich for a homeless person. Baking a cake isn’t going to solve local poverty, but it does bring the community a little closer together. When community comes together, change happens. This isn’t about ‘hit and run justice’, doing something good to tick off a list to say we’ve done our part. It’s about investing our whole selves into the place that we live and work or go to university. Inconveniencing ourselves in order to see our neighbours befriended, streets respected, and worth restored to those who have been devalued. Let’s begin to listen to the heartbeat of our communities; seeking out those who just want to chat to someone, or need help getting the groceries. Let’s live with our eyes and ears open, so that we may do something real about the poverty we can touch, right here and right now.