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On being poor

24 November 2022
Volume 31 · Issue 21

Being poor exposes people to a number of unbearable conditions that prevent individuals, families and communities achieving fulfilment and being the best they can be. People in poverty suffer pain: physical pain – when they have too little food and they work long hours – and emotional pain – from being humiliated daily, the shame of dependency, lacking power and being unable to express themselves, and from the moral indignity of needing to choose whether to eat or heat. The ability of a group to express its concerns and take control of its future is associated with the degree of power they have in society and their ability to access resources. As with all toxins, there are consequences to poverty, such as cognitive dysfunction and emotional disturbance, which perpetuates a vicious circle. The impact of poverty can be felt across the age continuum.

Poverty is material in origin, but it also has psychological consequences, such as distress when people are unable to feed their family, uncertainty of not knowing when the next meal will come, and the gross shame of having to go without. Social exclusion often comes about as a result of poverty and can erode social networks that can provide support. Escaping and recovering from poverty can be difficult, and its effects can be lifelong.

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