“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” ~Nelson Mandela
We tend to objectify poverty. We see the poor, not for who they are, but as a ‘condition’. Poor people become ‘things’ which we must deal with and take care of. As a society, we often understand poverty through poverty myths which have been with us for hundreds of years. Our social programs are created through these long-standing myths. We believe that poverty can be eliminated simply by providing charity and financial aid to people unable to take care of themselves.
Policies which deal with poverty as a stand-alone condition tend to treat the poor the same way across the world. It is clear that all communities have different needs, however! The many conditions which lead to poverty are different in each community.
The Developed World has created poverty reduction strategies which benefit corporations and multi-national industries. Agencies like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), charitable Christian Missions, and the World Bank can cause more harm than good, because they institute polices which promote ‘hidden agendas’. These agendas often benefit the corporations more than the communities.
Some institutions, like food banks, can serve to increase poverty, rather than reduce it. Food banks can increase health problems in poor individuals. Highly processed food options which many food banks provide can increase obesity, diabetes, and malnutrition. This results in decreased capacity to work. Social welfare programs become more costly. More taxes are needed. More laws are needed. More administrative offices are needed to manage increased paperwork and tracking systems. The system becomes unwieldy and inaccessible to people who need help. Most importantly, the poor are made to feel that they must take whatever is given them – after all, “beggars can’t be choosers”.
Before receiving assistance, the poor must prove they are ‘worthy’ of help. Food recipients are interviewed to make sure they aren’t taking advantage of the system. In some cases, they have to prove they are not using drugs or abusing alcohol. In other cases, applicants must agree to attend classes or religious workshops before they can get help.
Poverty myths are at play here. Poor people are seen as uneducated con artists who would rather receive handouts than engage in meaningful work. They are weighed, measured, and judged to be worthy or not. The poor exist on the fringes of ‘proper’ society. They are dehumanized and ‘undesirables’ who must be taken care of. We seem to have progressed very little from the policies of Victorian England.
“Please, sir, I want some more…” Source: www.thirdforcenews.org.uk
Our social policies are based in poverty myths. These myths must be abolished before we can hope to eliminate poverty. People are not ‘things’, and poverty is not a “thing”. The conditions which cause poverty are different and unique to every individual. UN SDGs may not be met, because poverty is addressed as a stand-alone condition in the world. We cannot address poverty as a stand-alone condition. We must work with each community to find out what is causing their poverty. The real question remains – “How do we do this?”
Two things must happen if we are to make the “elimination of poverty by 2030” a reality. First, we must overcome our personal poverty myths. We must understand that the conditions which lead to poverty are not the result of individual shortcomings. Poor individuals are often victims of circumstances well out of their control. They are people worthy of assistance – each with an important story to tell. Next, marginalised communities are comprised of unique individuals. Because of this, no two communities are the same, even when located in close proximity to each other. The International Development community must recognise this, and collaborate with each community to discover their unique stories, experiences and needs. Community members must have a lead role in the planning and implementation of projects!
In a previous blog series, I introduced the idea of a four C’s checklist (http://bit.ly/2bntwen) which can be used to work with marginalised communities – communities which don’t have access to the resources they need to sustain themselves. The four C’s include:
Any poverty reduction strategy which involves each of the four C’s has greater potential for helping, rather than harming, a community. One strategy which may serve impoverished communities on a global scale is currently being used in Ontario. Community hubs are a strategy which is collaborative and based in the understanding that every community has unique needs.
In 2015, the Ontario government outlined a strategic framework and action plan to help impoverished communities within the province. This plan established a nine-member advisory group for establishing community hubs. Each community hub is a centralised access point which provides social and health services, while also working to create special cultural, recreational, and green spaces for each community. Most importantly, each community hub is uniquely different – and depends on the specific needs of the community.
Community hubs will not work, however, unless there is complete cooperation everyone involved! Barriers to income and food security (unjust laws, lack of infrastructure, and social inequality) must be removed. It takes everyone involved to accomplish this.
Poverty cannot be addressed as a stand-alone ‘condition’. Poverty is caused by specific barriers which are unique to each community. Barriers to sustainability, social equality, food security, and access to resources must be addressed differently in each community. The community hub model can be successful, as long as everyone involved has an equal say in what happens. We must accept that poverty-stricken communities have the capacity, knowledge, and willingness to improve their condition.
Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!