A different approach to poverty

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I hope you’ve had the opportunity to read my articles about the Marcus Rashford campaign for Free School Meals. Alongside them, I would encourage you to read Steve Kneale’s article on The Poor living by bread alone. It’s worth if just for the excerpts from George Orwell’s Road To Wigan Pier. 

The reason I want you to read Steve’s article is that what you might start to see is that there is a very different philosophy coming out.  In my earlier article I mentioned that there is in reality a common world view between left and right in its analysis of the poor and of the working classes.  Similarly, I think there is a different world-view that Steve and I share even though we probably would come to different “political” solutions.

The worldview we share is rooted in the Bible. It’s a belief that God made this world good with enough resources to sustain all humanity that would live here. God is a God who generously provides. Sadly, the first humans Adam and Eve rebelled against God, doubting his goodness, they wanted to be God in his place. The consequence of that is known as The Fall. Death and suffering came into the world.

Even still, whilst creation might be described as fallen and under curse, it is still God’s good creation. Our work of filling and subduing it now comes with sweat, toil and struggle. Yet, our work is still possible and this world still richly supplies for us. There are enough resources to ensure that all can equally share in and enjoy the goodness of creation. Now, some of us might think that the best way of ensuring we all share in things is to let the state manage it and others may think it is better to leave that to markets, communities, families and individuals but under this world-view the possibility of that and the importance of that is recognised.

We would recognise that the block to such a situation is sin. However, it is not merely that we choose one group and blame them whether that’s the “feckless poor, “corrupt capitalists” or a specific minority group that people select out to scapegoat (Syrian asylum seekers, Jews, whoever).   Rather, it is that we know that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Poor people sin just as rich people do but that does not exclude them from “common grace” -the idea that God’s providential care (undeserved) is there for all. 

This takes us back into the Old Testament. Steve’s argument in his article was that the assumption was that “The poor” should be constrained to enjoying the bare necessities.  He argues that this is not the case, rather there should be an opportunity to enjoy the good things in life.  Now this might wind him up but there is actually a strong strand of that thinking on both left and right. One of the motivations for Thatcherism was that being able to own your own home, access good quality education, own shares and enjoy consumption of “luxury products” should not be rationed band limited to a privileged few. Now Thatcher believed market reforms, privatisation and tax cuts were they way to achieve that and I suspect a lot of my readers (and Steve) would disagree, my point here is simply that there are strands of thinking that cross the political divides. 

What this looked like in the Old Testament was as follows

  • There were festivals such as Harvest where all of God’s people were called together to share in God’s provision.
  • Debts were limited so that you had sabbath years and Jubilee years. Slaves were released and land returned.
  • There were opportunities for the poor to share in the harvest through gleaning.

Now, I am not at this stage arguing that we can re-create such a society but I want to argue that it presents a very different view of the world to much of what we see in modern politics (and if we are honest in modern Christianity too).  It would be great to start a conversation about what this different world might look like for us today.

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