People in poverty do not choose it

21:37, Dec 15 2013
Michael Gorman
TOUGH QUESTION: Michael Gorman says we need to ask ourselves if we live in a just country.

The poor lack status and power. In tackling poverty, the first thing to do is to create a climate of respect, writes Christchurch City Missioner MICHAEL GORMAN .

Sometimes I think we complicate things too much.

Each day at the City Mission we hear stories of people who are struggling to make ends meet. People from all ethnic groups, beliefs, states of health and gender tell of situations of hardship.

Mental illness, addiction, lack of social skills, low levels of education and loneliness are all in the mix but the common thread to all these individual stories seems to be that of poverty. Quite simply there is not enough money for many people to lead a decent life.

While surveys are helpful, those about poverty tell us what we already know. They tell us that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing and they tell us that 25 per cent of our children are living in poverty.


We can spend a lot of time debating what constitutes poverty. It is not the grinding poverty of a third-world country, but we are not a third-world country and should not tolerate our fellow citizens being shut out of the kind of life that the rest of us take for granted.

We can argue over how deserving people have to be before we help them. Saying "Is it their fault? "or "why don't they help themselves" is not helpful. There is a risk that while we analyse and complicate things, meantime the suffering continues.

Social service and health agencies are increasingly taking a holistic approach to working with people and trying to deal with all the issues that lead people to live in poverty.

So what can the ordinary person do to help those who are experiencing poverty?

I think the first thing is to create a climate of respect. The poor lack status and power. They have often never had good role models. It would be helpful to avoid making judgments and blaming them for being poor. If we only look at individuals then we may fail to see what needs to change in the systems we live under in New Zealand. We need to question if we have a just country.

It is easy to be sidetracked and to blame individuals for the position they find themselves in but surely no one would choose to be poor. Most of us have made poor choices in our lives but many of us have the emotional, mental and physical resources to recover. Some people do not and the last thing they need is to be blamed for their situation.

Over the last week The Press, in a splendid series of articles, has highlighted poverty and many brave people have opened their lives up to public scrutiny. In return the public reaction has not always been kind to them.

Maybe we could start helping by avoiding making judgments.

It is my belief that most of us want all of us to have a better life.

We are saddened and shamed by poverty in our community.

We want to help but can feel powerless and ask what can one individual do.

What we can do is show practical acts of charity by giving time, money and resources. While we should always be striving for justice, we can give immediate help to those in need. A way to do this is through the charities and organisations who know those who need support and who have, with public support, the ability to help.

A useful way of helping would be to support and encourage those suffering from addiction to seek help. Addiction is usually found in poverty, and alcohol and drug habits are expensive to maintain.

It often takes an act of great bravery to face the fact that your life has been taken over by substance abuse and to do something to regain control.

The most awful poverty of all is that of loneliness, of not being special to anyone, of being unloved. This may be the hardest thing of all to overcome.

At the City Mission we have people who see us as their family and while this is a lovely thought, it is sad that an agency has to fill this role.

We may not be able to befriend another, but at least we can avoid making their lives worse by harsh and negative attitudes.

Maybe the best way to help others in our community is not complex. Maybe it is very simple and is found in peace, goodwill and love.

The Press