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Why does poverty still exist in the UK?

Stop poverty now poster
Many who have jobs can sometimes only get enough money to keep going

If we got our act together dictionaries would be a lot lighter! By this year in our history, certain words should not be in there.

There should be no need to look up words like racism, sexism and homophobia, alongside the many slang terms that represent them. They should be a consigned to the history books.

And you can add to that volume the word poverty.

Recently, I was asked to chair a conference that was organised by CSV, the Community Service Volunteers, who are helping with a European Year 2010 initiative for combating poverty and social exclusion.

When you consider poverty, the first question you have to ask yourself is why? Why does it exist in a country like ours, with our developed technology, thinking and lifestyles? Do we still have people in our society who are not just struggling to make ends meet, but they can't even see the ends they are trying to unite!

Isolation

Why, in many cases, does the constant struggle of trying to keep up lead to isolation? When one of the biggest growths in our country is social networking and speed of communication, how do people feel more excluded from society than when there was rationing and rickets?

The European Union covers one of the richest areas in the world, but still 17% of EU citizens have such limited resources they cannot afford the basics.

In 2000 governments across Europe pledged to make "a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty" by the year 2010. This year their aims are to raise public awareness of the importance of combating poverty and social exclusion for personal, social and economic development.

The UK's national programme aims to tackle four key themes:

Child poverty, working age poverty and social exclusion, severe, multiple deprivation and older people in poverty or feeling socially excluded.

There's no party political point to be made here, it's just the way it is with successive governments of all kind of persuasions across Europe.

Researching the day, I found statistics suggesting unemployment and poor wages were the biggest pitfalls. It may seem an obvious thing to say, but no work leads to a very limited income.

Enough to survive

However, it doesn't stop there. The point was made repeatedly that many who have jobs can sometimes only get enough money to keep going. If they are in any kind of debt, there can be little or no chance of paying that money back and so they find themselves depressed and further excluded from the lives they aspire to. Sometimes, they simply don't even earn enough to survive.

Let me tell you about the people I met on Merseyside.

boarded up flats
One delegate talked of his dislike of the term "deprived area"

Usually when I go to the Everton area of Liverpool I return back down the East Lancashire Road miserable as hell because we have been roundly hammered again! However, the people I met at the West Everton Community Centre raised the spirits to a point well beyond a mere football win.

I met Eddy, who had spent a lifetime helping those around him on Merseyside. Cut him and from his veins would bleed the River Mersey. He was passionate about the area and passionate too that it was everyone's duty to help those who struggle. The waged or the unwaged, if people are struggling to stay afloat, then Eddy and his mates were there to help.

Maria was from Age Concern. She told us that many older people suffered because pride and ignorance often combined together to leave their financial rights unclaimed. We need to do more, we were told, to make many understand they have earned every penny that is being offered to them.

Skills and qualities

Jean was also concerned with the older end of life's highway. Jean wanted us to think better of pensioners. Treat them with more respect, recognize their obvious skills and qualities, and make sure they are adequately provided for. Include not exclude.

Jean gave us statistics about the size of pensions retired people were allocated. It's rare that a room full of scousers falls silent, but those statistics left us stunned and shamefaced in relation to the rest of Europe.

Greg had travelled from Manchester to tell us how communities can and do help each other to alleviate poverty and social exclusion. He had been party to creating jobs, new housing and community projects that made sure those in Wythenshawe who struggled weren't left to flounder on their own.

There were many contributions from the audience. One highlighted an over-emphasis on educational qualifications. How many people, we were asked, couldn't get jobs they were perfectly able to do just because they didn't have a degree from what was called "The Wizard of Oz."

We talked about attitude. Do we have the right attitude to those people who are struggling? Are we as a society too greedy and should we be prepared to better share money and opportunities?

Chaotic times

Some talked about a return to the 1980s. When chaotic times in Liverpool were making headlines around the world and many still hold firm that it was often for the right reasons.

One delegate talked of his dislike of the term "deprived area." He said it's always people who don't live in an area who refer to it as being deprived. The people who live there are often don't feel deprived, are far more optimistic and with the right motivation can lift the spirits and the economy of the area.

This day wasn't just about Merseyside and the marvellous people I met there. It was as much about Lancashire. In fact it was as much about our whole country.

We were asked to return to wherever we live and give some thought to what we, all of us, are going to do to help the good honest folk who try very hard and still financially or socially struggle.

We left far better educated and I hope more understanding. I think everyone learned so much about those impoverished in our community who live just a few steps from our houses, but who feel they live on another planet.

Joe Wilson

Joe presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 6am each Sunday




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