The Very Poor

It is an obvious statement, but life for the poor in any socioeconomic context can be hard and for the very poor it is usually very hard!

SALT uk exists to help prevent and relieve poverty and human suffering and it can be easy to make observations and quick judgements from our own perspectives about the causations and solutions. Very often though, the issues contributing to extreme poverty are complex and not as easy to address as sometimes our pronouncements are to make. History shows that all too often, however well-meaning and noble efforts are to prevent and relieve poverty, those efforts can easily create levels of dependency that over time further disempower the poor. This ultimately embeds the problems and issues even more deeply and pushes solutions and the prospects of eradicating poverty even further away.

In his 2011 book Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton says:

“The compassion industry is almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise.

But what is so surprising is that its outcomes are almost entirely unexamined. The food we ship to Haiti, the well we dig in Sudan, the clothes we distribute in inner-city Detroit— all seem like such worthy efforts. Yet those closest to the ground— on the receiving end of this outpouring of generosity— quietly admit that it may be hurting more than helping. How? Dependency. Destroying personal initiative. When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.

Africa can serve as a large-scale example of the problem. In the last fifty years, the continent has received $1 trillion in benevolent aid. How effective has this aid been? Country by country, Africans are far worse off today than they were a half century ago. Overall per-capita income is lower today than in the 1970s. Over half of Africa’s 700 million population lives on less than $1 a day. Life expectancy has stagnated, and adult literacy has plummeted below pre-1980 levels. “It’s a kind of curse,” says Dambisa Moyo, an African economist and the author of Dead Aid. Aid, though intended to promote health, becomes “the disease of which it pretends to be the cure.”

(Lupton, Robert. Toxic Charity: How the Church Hurts Those They Help and How to Reverse It. HarperCollins, 2011).

These may seem hard words from both Robert Lupton and Dambisa Moyo, especially if we haven’t previously given too much consideration to the issues and reality or had first-hand experience of these situations. If we are people who donate to poverty relief with the genuine desire and belief that we are helping to make a difference, these kind of observations and conversations can also be quite affecting and perhaps threatening to our sensibilities. If people are genuinely concerned about poverty, want to help eradicate it and have a desire to know about the ultimate outcomes their generosity brings, we can only encourage them to engage with these conversations and give careful consideration to them.

At SALT uk we do not pretend to have easy answers or prescriptive solutions to the complex issues that cause extreme poverty. We do however seek to engage with the issues as strongly and clearly as we can and through our long-term relationships with the partners, people and communities we work with, seek to have wisdom and act strategically to bring lasting and sustainable change and transformation to the lives of the poor. If we do have a desire to see poverty eradicated, an outcome of this goal would be that organisations like SALT uk have no further reason to exist!