An Introduction to Social Justice

What is Poverty and Social Exclusion?

Nelson Mandela once said of poverty;

“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”

 Poverty is often defined in two ways.

  1. Absolute poverty– when people do not have the basic necessities of life, that is, food, shelter and clothing.
  2. Relative poverty- occurs when there is inequality in a community and is often measured using a ‘poverty line’. Relative poverty is a concept most frequently used in developed countries like Scotland to define poverty.

Social exclusion occurs when members of the community cannot participate in key activities for whatever reason. This may mean they have restricted access to the economic resources and/ or services they require or they are effectively disengaged from many of the activities many community members would take for granted. Examples might include an inability to see a dentist or not being able to take the kids on holiday.

Why is it important to learn about Poverty and Social Exclusion?

It is important so that they are aware of the injustices in the world. Children who grow up with an awareness of other peoples suffering and the reasons why grow into more compassionate, giving adults. They also have greater understanding of the blessings in their lives.

A Mini Vinnies group may be the first opportunity for children to be exposed in a structured way to issues such as poverty and social justice. It is therefore important that this exposure be provided in a caring and empathetic way.