I am always astonished how the quote “The poor shall always be with us” is used by people who show very little understanding of theology or compassion for the poor.
This particular quote was used by Jesus to remind his followers about their priorities. The complete quote is: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:11)
When taken in the context of his ministry, it is clear that what Jesus is pointing to is the fact that as long as there are needy people in this world, his followers must always walk with them and support them in their efforts to sit at the table of plenty. Faith-based social activists like myself would suggest that if the teachings of faith were lived out in the political and community structures that we create, poverty would not exist.
But as Tom Fletcher said, for 2,000 years we have been struggling with how to open the hearts and minds of people who look at the world through the lens of scarcity and competition; who believe that the more stuff one has the more successful one must be; and whose love of personal comfort and convenience has cost the earth dearly.
Poverty is not a simple thing that will be fixed by putting single mothers back to work. It is a complex problem that will need a range of complex solutions.
I challenge you to enrich the poverty debate by taking the politics out of this issue and working harder to see the real human beings behind the numbers.