London’s Evening Standard recently ran a series of articles called “The Dispossessed” which looked at the realities of poverty in London. It made for shocking reading. Despite the fact that London is the richest city in Europe, more than half the children here live in poverty. While that statistic caused me to pause, it was the more in-depth stories that really boggled. Like the doctor working in the east end of London, in the shadow of Canary Wharf, who likens the plight of his patients to that of people in impoverished parts of Africa: a TB case every three days, children with bloated stomachs, living on nothing but crisps. Or the gravedigger in Islington, former home of Tony Blair, who buries babies four deep in paupers graves.
Shocking realities for a city so visibly awash with money, where bankers and their bonuses usually grab the headlines. I might as well be back in South Africa, with the gulf between rich and poor just as vast.
The on-line reactions to these articles were also thought-provoking. Many labelled the poor “lazy” or “ignorant” and therefore deserving of their plight. Maybe it’s true that greater opportunities for self-advancement exist in London, and therefore poor people here must shoulder a greater degree of responsibility for their condition. But does that mean they don’t deserve any help, or even interest or sympathy? And what about all those poor people we reach out to in Africa, Asia, or the Caribbean? Are they completely blameless? Or would we feel equally dismissive of them if we had to drive past their broken-down lives every day?
“The Dispossessed“can be accessed through www.thisislondon.co.uk. I urge you to read the articles. And I also urge you to research the poverty statistics in your area. You might be surprised. At a time when we’re generating enormous sums of money for disasters abroad, we also need to revisit the slow, quiet suffering on the other sides of the cities we live in.
Not because each of us MUST act to address domestic poverty, but because it’s worth reflecting on our attitudes towards it.