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‘You ARE extremely poor if you live from less than $1 a day’. That is at least what the World Bank says. They take into account the purchasing power of the local currency and inflation with as a base year 1985 (Ravenhill, 2011; 384). However, do all people below that line really feel poor? And do all the people above this line really feel rich? I think the real problem in the global political economy is that it is really difficult, maybe even impossible to define ‘the poor’. And how can you help them if you do not know who ‘they’ are?
We can describe the difficulty of defining ‘the poor’ by using two Georgie and Paul as examples: two homeless people from Camden Town. They survive from begging in the streets and they sleep in a tent on a hill near Camden. Sometimes they have good days and earn a lot of money, sometimes they have bad days and they have to go to bed without eating. Despite the fact that they mostly earn more than one dollar a day, a lot of people still think they ARE poor because they do not have a house and have to beg for a living. However, they do not FEEL poor themselves, because they got each other and a tent to sleep in and they do not want any help from the government. People that have a lot more money than them can feel much more poor, for instance, if they are not able to afford a car, a certain education, a big house etc. Simply because Georgie and Paul do not necessarily want those things. In this way poverty is very subjective and defined in the way a person is able to buy what he/she desires.
When defining poverty, most people make a difference between absolute and relative poverty. The United Nations defines absolute poverty at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro as: “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to social services” (1992). In this sense Geordie and Paul are probably not considered poor because they do have access to those facilities. They could, for instance, go to a homeless shelter and request social services. However, they CHOOSE not to do this.
According to the united Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) relative poverty is poverty in perspective to the status of other citizens. When a person falls under a certain general standard considering income, basic needs and capability standards of a society he is considered poor. However, both absolute and relative poverty mostly look at income and consumption and, as showed in the example, the economical condition of a person is by far not the only thing to be considered (2015, UNESCO). Georgie and Paul ARE considered poor in this perspective, since they are living below the general standards in the United Kingdom.
To conclude, there is a very big difference between feeling poor and being considered poor. You can be considered poor from one perspective and not-poor from the other without changing your living situation. I think it really depends on the person’s ability to fulfill one’s desires. However, desires are probably even more difficult to measure than poverty itself.
Robert Hunterwade (2011) ‘The Globalisation of Production’, in John Ravenhill Global Political Economy (OUP 3rd edition), pp. 384
UNESCO (2015) ‘Poverty’ Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/poverty/ [retrieved at 10-12-2015]
United Nations (1992) ‘World Summit for Social Development: Programme of Action – Chapter 2’ Available at: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/wssd/text-version/agreements/poach2.htm [retrieved on 14-12-2015]
- Mélanie Kamping