The only public service available to the poor, for which there is no waiting list, is the prison service, says Peter McVerry SJ.
The quality of life of those living in poverty is determined, not just by their inadequate income, but by the availability and quality of those public services on which they depend. Rapid access to good quality healthcare for themselves, their children and elderly relatives, good schooling and suitable and affordable housing make life much more bearable for those whose income is limited.
Appropriate housing is one of the most basic human rights, without which a person cannot live a happy, fulfilling life. The lack of appropriate housing makes life for those who are poor intolerable. Today, many do not have suitable, affordable housing. We have record numbers of homeless people, many others living in overcrowded homes, or in poor-quality private rented accommodation, or still living with parents because they cannot afford to move out, or living with the insecurity of eviction in the private rented sector or repossession of their home because they can no longer pay the mortgage. The lack of appropriate housing is causing stress and distress to half a million people, or more, in Ireland today, many of whom already suffer the stress of inadequate income.
To add to their distress, long waiting lists for hospital treatment for their elderly relatives or children are the norm for those who cannot afford to pay for medical insurance. While waiting for treatment, often in pain, they can only suffer in silence.
Indeed, the only public service available to the poor for which there is no waiting list is the prison service.
Those who struggle to maintain their dignity in the face of enormous odds are the real defenders of human rights. Some have to cope with a situation which would crush most others. They are a light revealing shadows that many wish to ignore. They challenge those of us who are not poor to re-examine our priorities, our values and our comfort zones. They invite us to open our hearts to include them in our love. If we do, we become more loving persons, and, therefore, we become more like God. No greater gift can anyone offer us, than the gift of becoming more like God.
(Photo: Mural in Smithfield, Dublin. Karen Botha)