Family Poverty is getting worse
Government statistics have all graphically set out the facts of rising poverty in our society.
The latest from the teachers representative National Education Union spells out that poverty is having a devastating impact on schoolchildren going hungry and their parents being able to afford clothes. (https://neu.org.uk/latest/neu-survey-teachers-witnessing-distressing-new-levels-child-poverty-winter-schools)
They say that a lack of food, decent housing and unsuitable clothing is overwhelming pupils and cash strapped schools. Their spokesperson, Mary Bousted in presenting the report based on a survey of 1,026 teachers nationwide, said “The government is out of touch with the distressing new reality of children’s daily lives; what it means to live without the basics such as food, shoes, and adequate clothing. It has failed to recognize the human cost of its cuts to schools and other children’s services and to the social security system and its failure to address the in-work poverty face by one in five workers.”
She added “Children can’t escape the poverty trap without an urgent change to national policies”. Schools are now having to pick up the pieces, providing free breakfast clubs, running school food banks, distributing food hampers and working with local authorities and charities to provide holiday meals. More significant is the reported practical impact in the classroom as lack of food affects a child’s capacity to learn and can lead to behavioural problems and for some families the shame of not being able to properly provide results in children’s absence and withdrawal. In other words, just as local community groups, charitable organisations and parishes are stepping in to help decreasing wage and welfare support systems, now schools are having to step in to support their pupils daily practical needs before the lessons can begin. This withdrawal of the state support systems is now having a detrimental effect on the educational system. In other words, the real increase in poverty is starting to hold our society back at the basic levels of health and education and the price to be paid in the medium as well as the longer term will be paid by us all and not just by the poor themselves.
In our society, in the fifth richest economy in the world, it is now about access to the basics of food and appropriate clothing. The St Vincent De Paul Society in many of our parishes has developed a long tradition of members quietly working away helping those in poverty locally in practical personal ways. Notably, the regular prayers of our local SVP parish conferences are set in four key themes; the SVP vocation; to see Christ in the Poor; For social justice; and to be servant leaders. The introductory prayers for Social Justice read “Lord Jesus help us … bear witness to your compassionate and tender love so that our hearts beat with the heartbeat of the poor and we come to see poverty through their eyes. May we encourage them to speak for themselves but be a voice for the voiceless, speaking out with courage and charity whenever poverty and injustice is due to unjust laws or structures”.
Pope Francis insists that “Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it”. Already many Catholics are active supporters of food banks and many more could be encouraged to join the SVP. But there remains a task of advocacy and challenging unjust structures. As St Oscar Romero put it “When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structure that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises”
In his recent address to the Church’s “World Day of the Poor” Pope Francis challenged us to respond in the light of the Gospel’s message; “If God can responsively hear thee cry of the poor, why can’t we?”.
In July our Justice and Peace Commission will be helping the National Justice and Peace Network at their annual conference in Derbyshire get this issue onto national agendas within the Church and society. ( for more details see https://www.justice-and-peace.org.uk/conference/ ).