Who Are the Poor?
I was put in mind of this quote while having lunch in a restaurant at a table alongside a group of striking school teachers. Their placard, propped up on a seat, read, “Too poor to buy soap or deodorant” – which made it difficult to imagine how they could afford lunch in a restaurant. About as hard as it is to imagine that in living memory people were going to the butcher to have their teeth extracted.
Poverty has a way of being like that – you know, a bit relative.
While it might not now be routine for the British to go to the butcher to have their teeth removed, there are still plenty of poor people in the world. Sadly, the covid pandemic (or at least the response to it) pushed 70 million or more into extreme poverty. That was the result of all those lockdowns and closing of economies. I don’t believe anyone intentionally hoped to push tens of millions into teeth crumbling poverty but that was the result, and that result was very predictable from very early in the pandemic – just as current inflation rates were a predictable result of all that magicked-up cash being injected into the economy. The lockdowns were inhumane – they were a fuel for poverty.
While hundreds of millions live in extreme poverty (and despite the impact of covid), the overall decline in poverty is one of the miracle stories of our age. As recently as 1990 38 percent of the global population, some two billion people, lived in extreme poverty. By 2019 these figures were down to 8.44 percent and 648 million people. Christians pray “Thy kingdom come!” Those look like prayer answered statistics. We should celebrate the incredible strides taken in reducing global poverty while grieving the grip it yet exerts.
Deuteronomy 15:4 tells us that, “There need be no poor people among you” yet seven verses on it says, “There will always be poor people in the land”. There’s no need for anyone to be poor: there is sufficient abundance in the world for all. But corrupt structures, personal sin, inequalities, and sheer ‘bad luck’ mean the poor are still with us.
And every time you walk past a butchers shop, or a protesting teacher, give thanks if you can afford to keep your teeth.