Leading article: Not just charity, but justice too

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There is a proverb which is often glibly trotted out when people come to talk about poverty: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for life." The problem is that this suggests that addressing global poverty is essentially a technical matter. In part that is true; but poverty is also a political issue. The solutions require justice not charity, and in the modern world, that means understanding the reality of how political power is exercised.

That is why, for The Independent's Christmas Appeal this year, we have focused on three charities which do not simply ask us to give money to dig a well or send drugs to a needy clinic in the Third World. Rather they ask – extending the fishing metaphor – why it is that poor people are not allowed to fish in a particular river and what skills they need to acquire to challenge those who prevent them from fishing there.

So our three charities this year are working not merely for charitable donations but for social change. VSO sends professionals to share skills which will remain long after its volunteers have returned home. Action on Disability and Development works on changing attitudes, laws and government polices towards disabled people. And One World Action partners oppressed groups in their struggle to get their voices heard.

That is particularly apt this year. Christmas is traditionally a time for giving, but the chill wind of recession is cooling normally generous national impulses. Donations to charity are down by about 10 per cent and one third of British charities have already been forced to make cuts. Smaller charities are being hit worse than big-name ones.

It is therefore all the more important to tackle poverty at its deeper roots. Charities which provide opportunities for the poorest women, men and children to transform their own lives deserve our support more than ever. They bring the most vulnerable groups in our global society face to face with decision-makers so they can speak for themselves – and bring about change of the most effective kind. We hope that, in coming days, the stories we will bring you about how this is being done will convince you to be more generous this year than ever before.

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