Poverty snapshot: nobody cares
Last week Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, tweeted a picture of a letter he had received from an 11-year-old girl in his constituency. He had been given it by her parents when they came into his surgery to talk to him about their need for better housing provision.
The letter gives a powerful insight into poverty’s effects on a family. You can read the full letter on the Metro’s website, but here are some of the things that stood out to me from it:
Lack of basic needs: The family is housed – and the father is in work – but the desperate shortage of council housing means that the parents and five children are crammed into a one-bedroom flat. We all need a certain amount of space and privacy, and in a culture where it is generally considered that every child needs his or her own bedroom, to have three sisters sleeping on the floor in their parents’ room is not just uncomfortable but embarrassing. The children will be acutely aware that, regardless of material possessions, they simply don’t have access to the things their school friends take for granted.
Lack of sleep: Many people in poverty struggle to sleep well. This can be due to anxiety, the cold, hunger or many other factors. For this child it is for the very practical reason that her dad works at nights and has to get up while she’s still trying to sleep. The lack of space means he has to turn on the light to avoid tripping over her and her sisters in the dark. Her tiredness affects her concentration, which then affects her school work. It probably also affects her mood and gives her less resilience to stress and tension in relationships. It is also likely to lower her immune system’s ability to fight infection, meaning she could be unwell – and miss school – more than other kids her age.
Lack of hope: “I am so scared”, the girl writes, “because I want to pass my SATs but I have no place to revise. All I have ever wanted was to get good grades. Now I don’t even think I can get expected.” In a world that values academic achievement, low grades at 11 could affect the whole course of her school and work life. When we have no hope that things will ever improve, what incentive do we have to even try?
Lack of support: This girl’s parents are clearly doing the best they can. They are the sort of people who will encourage their daughter to write to her MP, and will then take her letter and give it to him. Yet she feels like nobody cares about her. She is trapped in an unhappy situation and none of the adults who are supposed to be there to help seem to be doing their job.
Lack of joy: When you can’t host a party, or even have friends round for tea, that means you often feel unable to go to other people’s houses for their parties or to hang out. Poverty thus prevents this girl from both giving and receiving. She is unable to be generous, so she is unable to receive other people’s generosity. Add to that the distress of seeing her mother crying “every day” and it is easy to understand the sense of despair that permeates the letter.
How can we respond?
Stewardship’s annual ‘40 Acts’ Lenten generosity campaign has a three-level system, where they suggest an easy, medium or hard act to perform in response to each day’s challenge. I like that idea, so here’s a similar model for us:
Pray for people trapped in poverty. I’ve highlighted five different areas of need that you may not have thought about – why not pray about one each day this week? Ask God to provide basic needs, sleep, hope, support and joy for the poor in your community.
Does your church run any ministries that are designed to meet these needs? If so, could you volunteer in one of them? From TLG, that helps churches provide help for kids who are struggling in school, to Free Cakes for Kids*, that provides birthday cakes for children who otherwise wouldn’t get one, there is a whole range of things you can do to help. Remember, one of the biggest things this girl needs is the knowledge that someone cares. How could you show that?
If there’s nothing in your area that meets the need God has put on your heart, could you consider starting something? And if there’s not already a ‘franchise’ charity that you can get involved with, why not pray about starting something that will meet a currently unmet need?
The biggest need here is for more housing for those on low incomes in our nation. Are you an investor who could invest money into building or providing homes for needy families? Are you a builder who could commit to creating genuinely affordable solutions as part of every development you build? Are you a politician or campaigner who could commit years and energy to lobbying for a radical rethinking of the housing distribution in our nation?
* Note: Free Cakes for Kids is not a Christian initiative – just a good one!