Niall Cooper: How to meet the reality of poverty
When you think about poverty, who do you think about? Poverty is not an abstract concept – something affecting people far away. But for some reason, we struggle to ‘see’ poverty close to home.
Fiction has a certain power. The recent film I, Daniel Blake, just like Cathy Come Home in the 1960s, told a powerful story which has the capacity to move audiences to empathy and anger. Jesus too knew about the power of parable but he didn’t restrict himself to telling stories; he met with real people with real names and real lives. People whom society regarded as outsiders. He addressed them by name and treated them as friends. How hard it is for many of us to do likewise. It is much easier for us to talk about poverty and exclusion than it is for us to count people who actually experience poverty as our friends.
Now, when I think about poverty, I think about Patrick, Laura, Jayne, Penny, Alain, Kasia, Peter. These are people whose stories have had a powerful impact on my view of the world. All are members of the Salford Poverty Truth Commission, as I am. Their stories and insights are now having a profound impact on how I and other members of the Commission think about how to tackle poverty in Salford. When the commission meets to discuss how to respond to homelessness in Salford, I don’t bring to mind my own stereotypes of a homeless person begging in a shop doorway. I now think about Penny, Patrick and Alain, who each have personal knowledge of how hard it is to be homeless. …
Niall Cooper is Director of Church Action on Poverty
This is an extract from the March 2017 edition of Reform.