The force to resist

Poverty: an emotional shock for many families

An appeal for “a new mobilisation of voluntary participation to tackle poverty in our society” was addressed on December 1st by Msgr. Noel Treanor bishop of Down and Connor, Irish delegate to COMECE, at the launch of Challenging Poverty in Northern Ireland report in Belfast. The Report was produced jointly by the Northern Ireland Catholic Commission on Social Affairs (NICCOSA), the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Mary’s University College. The text, the prelate explained, provides a picture of the “new dimensions of poverty” in the Country. It was also motivated by a desire to make “a practical contribution to the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, 2010”. Shared responsibility and participation. “The European Union – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council – recognised from the outset that effective action against poverty requires active partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors as a key vector for increasing public ownership of policies and actions promoting social inclusion”, said Msgr. Treanor. “A key objective of the initiative therefore was the development of shared responsibility, participation and cohesion, emphasizing both collective and individual responsibility”. The fight against poverty “requires mutual recognition of the respective competence and experience” of “all of the sectors” involved in this field. “We need more people to become involved” in “practical support, including a caring word and a listening ear to those in need around us”, the prelate said. “As Christmas approaches, people are worried. Confidence is low. Hope in the future is in short supply… There are few postcodes in Northern Ireland today where there is not some family living in fear of the next bill, of not being able to heat the house, of not having enough money for Christmas presents for the children”. “Losing established wealth and becoming poor, perhaps for the first time in your life is a crushing and traumatic experience, often compounded by the emotional distress of leaving the stability of a much loved family home. This is the new and stark dimension of the poverty in our midst”. The role of the Churches. According to the Report, “Northern Ireland remains one of the most economically peripheral and disadvantaged regions of the EU”, where “approximately 110,000 children in Northern Ireland are living in income poverty, more than double the rest of the regions in the UK”. 41% of individuals in lone parent families live in poverty and also 33% of pensioners in rural areas. The percentage of “working poor” is equally high. “Growing our social market economy is vital to the integral development of the future economy in which profit and capital are at the service of people”, cautioned Msgr. Treanor. “Voluntary participation and subsidiary action are the entrepreneurial capital of the social market economy”, he added. “They are essential in guiding the economy to its human and social ends.” The European Parliament and Council “as well as many individual states within the EU”, said Msgr. Treanor – are increasingly recognising the role of Churches and faith based organisations as key actors in the social economy. Without compromise to the appropriate autonomy of Church and State in their respective areas of competence, there is an increasing willingness on the part of Governments and non-faith based organisations across the EU to dialogue, support and actively collaborate with Church based organisations in mutual pursuit of the common good”. In Northern Ireland, the Churches and faith based organisations “make a particularly significant contribution to the social economy”. Msgr. Treanor thus called upon “sisters and brothers in the Christian Churches” to “witness to and work for a more cohesive, shared and reconciled society”.“Hope” above all. Cormac Wilson, President of the Northern Region Society of St Vincent de Paul guarded against the “stresses and dangers of moneylenders”. SVP “gives hope”, he said, recalling the membership of 9,500 volunteers, of which over 1,900 are based throughout NI in 182 conferences. Wilson underlined the increased calls for assistance: up by 35%, in some areas the figures are nearer 50%, and voiced his concern over the cuts to welfare benefits “deemed necessary” by the Governments “both sides of the border” and the consequences for the future wellbeing of our communities and those we assist. The SVP spent £2.7m on people and families in need during 2009. Among others, the money was spent in: family & individual support, £1,087k; food £364k; clothing £358k; fuel, gas, electricity £477k; education & jobs £103k. Over more than 2,700 family visits weekly. “Considering the current economic climate across Ireland, North and South, HOPE is a commodity that thousands of people need”, Wilson concluded. Church-gate collections are taking place over the next few weeks, especially during SVP Week from 5 to 12 December.

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