The Ark

Is Life Fair for the Poor?

Thu December 6th, 2018

Who are we talking about when we say 'poor'? What exactly does it mean?

In pure economic terms, income poverty is when a family's income fails to meet a nationally established threshold that differs from country to country. Typically it is measured with respect to families, and is adjusted for the number of persons in a family.

Internationally, the standard of extreme poverty is set to having less than 1.25$ per day. Extreme poverty is a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information.

Frequently, poverty is defined in either relative or absolute terms. Absolute poverty measures poverty in relation to the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The concept of absolute poverty is not concerned with broader quality of life issues or with the overall level of inequality in society. The concept therefore fails to recognise that individuals have other needs, in particular social and cultural. This led to the development of the concept of relative poverty. Relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context. An important criticism of both concepts is that they are largely concerned with income and consumption.

Social scientists see poverty as multi-faceted so we hear of terms such as housing poor, health poor or time poor.

Today it is widely held that one cannot consider only the economic part of poverty. Poverty is also social, political and cultural. Moreover, it is considered to undermine human rights in the following ways:

- economic (the right to work and have an adequate income)

- social (access to health care and education)

- political (freedom of thought, expression and association) and

- cultural (the right to maintain one's cultural identity and be involved in a community's cultural life).

Towards the end of the last century we first heard of the Millennium Development Goals which target particular issues to improve the lot of the poor. By 2015 we had reduced by over half the population of the world living in extreme poverty. UN Gen secretary, Ban Ki-moon says we can now eliminate extreme poverty in one generation. Since 2000 the number living in extreme poverty has fallen by over half, from 1.9 billion to 836 million in 15 years

Poverty in the UK

In the UK we measure absolute poverty as having an income below 60% of the median national income. (The median is the middle of all incomes). In 2013 the median income was £21000, so 60% of that was £12,600. 10.6 million people lived in absolute poverty in the UK which was 16.8% of the population.

Are these people as poor as those in Africa? No…but they are relatively poor, often unable to pay bills, go out socially, or be enriched culturally. As we have heard from Foodbanks, they often struggle to put food on the table.

We hear stories of teachers feeding kids because they come to school with no breakfast and nothing for lunch. We are seeing genuine malnutrition in our country for the first time since the second world war. Why are we returning to school meals? – Because it guarantees some children their only meal.

The fact is that if you have a mortgage or rent bill of £1000 per month and no savings, and all of a sudden you are unemployed, you are poor; however, relatively you may have enough in capital in your house to be alright if you could sell up – but then where do you live?

If you suffer from mental illness and can’t get any help, you can imagine how quickly you can end up living on the streets.

If you are a mum with two small children and your partner walks out leaving a huge mortgage or a sizeable rent, you are also poor. You may have access to drinking water, sanitation facilities, healthcare, shelter and education, but you are still poor.


Is it ever fair that people are poor? Is it true what the media tell us that some people make themselves homeless? Are they all drunkards who drink their pay packet or drug addicts that cannot afford to pay their bills. Are they all gamblers who run up huge debts? Undoubtedly there are some people in all these categories, but there are also people who through no fault of their own find themselves in dire straits.

What about the person who has a good job but is maimed in a car accident, or the family who suddenly had a child with cancer and neither of them can work for a year whilst their child undergoes treatment?

There are consequences to our actions, but sometimes in life ‘stuff happens’, and no one is responsible. In better times the government will take care of you, but in these times of austerity, there may not be much help! Have we any right to assume it is all their fault – and even if it is their fault isn’t there something we can do to help?

Isn’t justice always on the agenda of the church? Although it is we also recognise that as Christians we also have to face injustice because of our faith – how many Christians in the Arab world are forced into menial or servile job roles that pay very badly indeed, leaving them poor by any standard?

The Church

Can the church help? As an organisation the church is also hit by austerity, because it is supported by its members who may also be feeling the pinch. So when the government can’t help it doesn’t naturally follow that the church can. But then, how can the church hold back?

The gospel is for the poor: Jesus said

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. Luke 4:18 HCSB

The edict of the early church leaders to the apostle Paul was that he should remember the poor. This was also discussed at the inaugural meeting of the Ark Church and we still commit to helping the poor today.

When James, Cephas, and John, recognized as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I made every effort to do. Gal 2:9-10 HCSB

The only question is which poor can we help?

Jesus became poor to enrich our lives:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich. 2 Cor 8:9 HCSB

Jesus’ step brother James tells us this:

Listen, my dear brothers: Didn't God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? James 2:5 HCSB

There is indeed a special place in the heart of God for the poor and we must not discriminate against them:

But if you show favoritism, you commit sin. James 2:9 HCSB


We can only do what we can do – what resources will allow, and we have to make prioritising decisions. But when the earthquake in Nepal happened we had an extra offering and sent relief there. When we have someone turn up at church in need we also see what we can do.

Jesus was right when he said we will always have the poor with us (Matt 26:11), and we do, but when it comes closer to home, we have to respond in some way.


One of the big ways we help people these days in the UK is with debt advice. Agencies like CAP (Christians Against Poverty) will advise and attempt to reschedule debt or even cancel it. Thank God for the missional thinking which inspired the startup of this organisation and other similar ones. Sometimes we need to help people get in the system and get local help from the council and the CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau).

You might ask is it even fair that the poor have to visit these agencies? Wouldn’t it be more helpful just to give them a handout? The reality of groups like CAP is they use the law to help people out of unmanageable debt and face up to the consequences of any actions that may have taken them there without passing judgement or looking down at them over their glasses!


One thing is for sure with 16.8% of the population poor, we have to be aware of these issues, and plan to help in every way we can. Poverty wasn’t just an issue for Charles Dickens and Tiny Tim, it is all around us.

With all the talk of austerity measures hitting the welfare budget, this is topical question, for which there are no absolute answers, other than we must all do what we can to help the poor. It may not be causing loss of life in the UK (although it certainly reduces quality and length of life) but it is having a really negative impact on individuals and families.

One thing the church is very good at is enriching the poor socially and culturally. We give the poor a place where they can belong, where they are part of a family and can engage with the family in everything we do.

What we must always do is remember them – not in some sort of ‘memorial’ concept – but by recognising they exist and doing everything we can to ease their suffering.

Is it fair that some people have loads of money and others have nothing? Clearly not, but then God never promised us fairness in this world. It is simply up to Christians to be fair with others and promote a fairer society. In God's kingdom, all will be fair and just!