Soup Run Queue is Growing
Everybody knows times are hard, work is growing more scarce and the cost of living is high. For the past few weeks I have noticed that the soup run queue on the seafront has been getting steadily longer. Yesterday, for the first time, I noticed a family in the queue for the sandwiches and coffee including two little girls aged around 7 to 9 years of age.
When a mother and father are struggling to feed their children, you know that times are very hard. This is the reality of poverty in the UK. For fathers, poverty and unemployment is humiliating, for couples poverty is a source of conflict and arguments, for parents poverty can mean going without to feed your children. For children, poverty can mean social exclusion and bullying at school.
Ed West of the Catholic Herald is coming to St Mary Magdalen's today to talk about poverty and the Faith with me. I feel slightly uncomfortable about it. I think that the experts on poverty are people who are truly poor or at least have experience of it. True poverty results not merely in financial insecurity, but exclusion from society. The Gospels bear witness to this in, for example, Our Lord's healing encounters with those suffering leprosy. Poverty can result in a kind of social leprosy.
People living in long term poverty are often stigmatised and made outcasts. In the parish of St Mary Magdalen's we have one lady who lived a long time in 'cardboard city' in London but was able thanks be to God to find help and support to escape homelessness. I have an hour or two before the interview and will endeavour to get the gist of Caritas in Veritate in preparation for it. Say a prayer that I may not say anything too dumb and that I may give God glory.
The experts on poverty are those living in poverty. People living in poverty do not need well-meaning spokesmen or women, when they can speak for themselves...if somebody takes time to ask. One of the effects of poverty is that people feel without a voice. At ATD Fourth World, it would take sometimes months of encouragement to enable families who are enduring poverty, even in the midst of widespread affluence and wealth in the 'good times', to talk about their experience in a microphone and share their experiences. Some of these families went on to be able to explain poverty to thousands at commemorations, at policy forums with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty and even at the United Nations. That, I feel, says a lot more than I could possibly say. Still, I will do my best.