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‘The poor will always be with you’

Statistics show that the number of people in Malta whose average household income is below €8,143 has climbed to 69,920.Statistics show that the number of people in Malta whose average household income is below €8,143 has climbed to 69,920.

We are inclined to think that poverty is often self-inflicted through the sluggish behaviour of people who lack initiative to pull themselves out of the poverty margins, who are only interested in exploiting social benefits dished out of the public purse. Although there will always be such cases, this is far from the norm.

It is hard to realise that the road to poverty is often imposed by the choices and attitudes of the few.

A typical example is the rampant exploitation of the property market by some giant construction magnates who seek to make colossal profits by selling tiny or substandard properties to new couples. This gross, unbridled injustice results in hardship for couples seeking to raise a family in a dignified home, often burdening them with a huge loan mortgaged over their entire lifetime.

A similar scenario unfolds in the property rental market. The influx of wealthy foreigners or the upper class on our island seem to be exhausting the supply of upgraded rented property and pushing up rents charged to average wage earners. It was precisely in this spirit that Archbishop Charles Scicluna called for a “dignified standard of living for all” and questioned whether the wealth generated in Maltese society had created “an oligarchy of the super-rich” while workers struggled to afford monthly rent.

When Jesus told the crowd at Bethany that “the poor will always be with you” (Mark 14:17) he never portrayed a shrugging acceptance that poverty is just the way it is and that there is nothing we can do about it. Rather, he was foretelling that there will always be greed that emanates from the love of money, which is the root of all kinds of evil. But there is a tendency among many so-called ‘Christians’ to pervert Jesus’ words “the poor will always be with you” as accepting it as a ‘status quo’ in order to deny all culpability and responsibility for or to the poor.

The road to poverty is often imposed by the choices and attitudes of the few

The United Nations defines poverty as “a human condition characterised by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights”.

Local statistics show that the number of people living in households whose average income is below the monetary poverty line of €8,143 – or 60 per cent of the national median income – has climbed slightly to 69,920 people. Poverty will run deeper in the absence of a proper enforcement to ensure fair market prices affordable by a wider sector of society.

Institutions, educational or social, and indeed the Church, are properly concerned with effective service, with sustainable programmes, with evidence-based research in the struggle for justice towards people who are poor. However, it is social workers, psychotherapists, counsellors, religious and their collaborators who are at the front line, facing the daily realities of the poorest of the poor, and their concerns need to be heeded to.

The generous heart of the Maltese nation deserves praise, but poverty will never be eradicated simply by charity. A just society demands the right equilibrium between sustaining economic growth and ensuring a fair distribution of wealth, especially to the most vulnerable.

In the words of Pope Francis “in the imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it”.

gordon@atomserve.net

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