The Poverty of Riches

Poverty right next to tourist hotel in Sri Lanka
Poverty right next to tourist hotel in Sri Lanka

We normally think about poverty as being caused by a lack of money. Yet it is quite possible to be rich in terms of money and yet incredibly poor in other areas. My passion is to see a world free from the effects of absolute poverty, a world which doesn’t have a billion people surviving on less than $1 a day. Yet I am very aware that defining poverty is not about numbers and statistics, but about a lack of resources in multiple areas such as capital, earning capacity, freedom, health, faith, education, love, family, companionship and community.

I remember, 20 or so years back visiting Nigeria and speaking to people we would certainly class as extremely poor. I must have appeared to be very rich to them. But there was one particular area where I was poor compared to many of them. I cannot go into details, but no sum of money could rectify one particular situation Christine and I were faced with.

Measuring Poverty

I must admit that I love statistics. I understand percentages, big and small numbers, graphs and maps with different colours representing differing values. Show me a map with the number of percentages of people living in absolute poverty and I see a picture of the world and can pick out problem areas.

To quantify something like poverty we like to put numbers to it. We can understand what it means to live on just one dollar a day. But how can we measure the strength of a community, or put a value on freedom of choice or movement. So there is a tendency to ignore the poverty of things we cannot measure.

Material Poverty

Although I am going to talk about other forms of poverty, I do not wish to understate the real deprivation which a lack of resources brings. Whether it is lack of capital to improve a family’s income capacity, a lack of jobs, a lack of clean water or a lack of availability of health care, material poverty is a blight on the lives of billions of men and women, who are just like you and me – with hopes and dreams of a better life.

But let’s look at forms of poverty which affect the lives of people living in countries like my own, the United Kingdom, Poverty which is found among the ‘rich’ throughout the world

 Poverty of freedom

We all long to be free. We may live in a country in which there is no freedom of movement or where our culture is dominated by another culture. We may lack freedom of choice, freedom of religion or freedom to decide what form of government should rule our lives.

Poverty of health

Health poverty may be result of material poverty but sometimes we are told we just have to live with a health problem or we may have a condition or disease for which there is no cure. For example, so many people have back problems which seriously affects the quality of their lives and they can be living in health poverty.

Poverty of broken relationships

Broken relationships cause so many problems and creates real poverty in people’s lives. Whether we are talking about a husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, or a young person and mother-in-law, a broken relationship causes poverty in the lives of all those affected. If you have a good relationship with your spouse, your children and all in your extended family, then you are rich regardless of your material possessions.

Material poverty can also be the result of broken marriages and relationships. In the United Kingdom broken relationships are probably the major cause of poverty in the nation. I do not condemn a single mother struggling to give her children the best in life, but children need mothers and fathers both for love and financial security.

Poverty of loneliness

How many widows and widowers are there, living on their own, suffering from the poverty of loneliness? How many fathers are there, with no contact with their children, condemned to loneliness in old age with no known family? In the words of an old Beatles song, “Money can’t buy you love”. Loneliness is indeed a terrible form of poverty.

Poverty of love

Being loved is probably the most basic of all human needs. I am so blessed to have a loving wife who I am still crazy about. My parents were not very good at showing affection, but I really did know that they loved me and wanted the best for me.

I cannot really understand what it must be like to live in a marriage where love is non-existent or to not know that I was loved by my mother and my father. And yet we live in a world where these situations are common. Poverty of love is very real and can exist in any, and every, country of the world.

Poverty of fragmented communities

One thing I have observed. The richer a country is materially, the poorer is the sense of community. The poorer a country is, the stronger it is in community. Man was made as a social being, and lack of community is in itself a form of poverty.

I recently watched a television program about the favelas of Rio in Brazil. Although material poverty, violence and deprivation was rife there was no doubting the sense of community which existed and enriched their lives.

Poverty of  faith

Every human being was made in the image of God and made to have a relationship with Him. However, that relationship is broken and we are the poorer for that. Jesus entered our world to show us what God was really like and to restore that connection. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

God blesses those who are poor and realise their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3 New Living Translation)

It is in recognising our poverty, and realising that we need God, that he can bless us and restore us to a right relationship with our heavenly Father and Creator.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

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