Brussels, 28 January 2010 - Caritas Europa made a powerful plea to end the scandal of poverty yesterday with the official launch of its Zero Poverty campaign in the European Parliament. Supporting Caritas’s message that poverty is not acceptable in the modern age were all five of Malta’s MEPs, eight of Ireland’s twelve, two of Luxembourg’s six, many more elected representatives from a number of European countries as well as journalists, civil society actors and representatives of European governments.
The room may have been packed, but the message was clear. The fact that in the EU, 1 in 5 children, 1 in 4 elderly people and almost 1 in 6 people in the wider population live in poverty is everybody’s concern. As a society, we have a duty to act, not only because it is morally just to do so, but also because a happier, safer and more cohesive society would be the result.
The opening words of the launch were given by Elisabeth Schroedter MEP, to whom Caritas Europa is extremely grateful for her generous help in organising such a successful event. The main emphasis of her speech was inclusion – the need to pull down barriers that prevent the poor, minorities, the disabled from achieving their full potential. The audience was reminded that poverty is mainly transferred intergenerationally and that avoiding this chain of poverty would require innovative solutions, her suggestion being a guaranteed minimum income.
Elisabeth Schroedter’s opening words were followed by a moving appeal by Caritas Europa’s President, Father Erny Gillen. ‘Open your eyes and look at poverty’, he told the audience. ‘Open your ears and listen to the voices of poor people. Open your heart and meet people. Open your mind and understand that we are all human persons’. Father Gillen then gave a speech forcefully arguing that the emphasis on fighting rather than preventing poverty is wrong – for moral reasons as it removes people’s dignity, for practical reasons as it is inefficient. The key to eradicating poverty, said Father Gillen, was preventing it from occurring in the first place through investment in people.
This set the scene for a lively discussion, in which MEPs were keen to talk about their own personal interpretation of the phrase ‘Zero Poverty’. For Sylvia Costa, the most important aspect of the campaign was its emphasis on eradicating child poverty – a theme which was prominent in the contributions of Ilda Figueiredo and Kinga Göncz as well. For Patrizia Toia, what attracted her to the campaign was the emphasis on ‘zero’ poverty – i.e. the uncompromising belief that poverty is an injustice. Charles Bach and Nessa Childers on the other hand chose to focus on the social element of fighting poverty – for them growing inequality was a problem, not least because it loosens the ties that should bind a society. Marian Harkin was attracted by Caritas's definition of social welfare and the various proposals put forward to strengthen it.
Finally, Paolo Pezzana and Patrizia Cappelletti from Caritas Italy presented Caritas Europa’s new paper on poverty: Poverty Among Us. The paper takes a radical new approach to poverty, with innovative new suggestions on how to measure poverty and challenging proposals for tackling it. The paper takes as its central mission the person centred approach. Cappelletti and Pezzana read touching testimonies of people living in poverty and stressed the importance of an empirical approach to tackling poverty that draws on the experience of working with the poor and socially excluded.
The launch ended with the symbolic signature of Caritas’s Petition Against Poverty by Elisabeth Schroedter. She is one of the first to sign – to help our dream of Zero Poverty become a reality, we need a million more. Let’s act now!
Erny Gillen, President of Caritas Europa, and MEP Elisabeth Schroedter during the launch
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