Fr Barr on Allen's Poverty Article
Squatters and the Poor
The articles showed little understanding and sympathy for so many people in our country who are poor and struggling and face real hardships. For some reason it seems that people like to fix their attention on some of the exceptions and make them out to be the norm. I was going to ignore Alan's articles but, on second thoughts, I decided they should not pass without comment. Many people read Alan's column and could easily have their old prejudices reinforced by the comments of a popular columnist. I guess one of the main faults I found was that of blaming the poor for their poverty and failing to acknowledge that poverty is a structural problem - not an individual failure. Most of the poor in Fiji are victims in a society structured for the benefit of some at the expense of the many.
In his article on poverty Allen claimed ignorance of what the poverty line is and made a joke of it by comparing it to the international dateline. I am sure he is an educated gentleman and could easily find out what the poverty line is and how it is calculated. Too many people who don't want to know the truth about poverty poke fun at the concept of the poverty line and claim it is a figment of some academic's imagination. In fact the poverty line is a figure carefully calculated from reliable statistics collected in the Housing Income and Expenditure Surveys (HIES) conducted about every six years. It can be updated each year by taking account of inflation for the previous year. If someone's total income is below the poverty line they are said to be in poverty and the number and percentage of people in poverty in the country can be calculated.
Most statistical calculations are never perfect but, because the poverty line is calculated on the minimum income required for people to meet their basic needs, it provides a reliable guide to us to follow. And when we hear that 35 per cent or 40 per cent of our population is living below the poverty line we have cause not only to worry but also to be ashamed. There is enough reliable information available about poverty and the real situation of squatters in Fiji. Why do some people continue to belittle the poor and refuse to understand the reasons for their condition? Why are the relatively few cases of those who are lazy or pretend to be poor always trotted out as though they represent the real situation of all poor people? Is it because we are afraid to face the fact that our lifestyle could be the cause of other people's poverty? Can a few donations to "good causes" absolve us of our responsibility to assist our brothers and sisters in need? Unfortunately, Jesus' parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus continues to be played out in Fiji and across the world.
So Allen, thank you for your articles but please show greater understanding and concern for the poor who are genuinely struggling in Fiji today. Your recent one on Shoeshine boys shows much more compassion and understanding. Congratulations on that one!