As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest – Nelson Mandela (Guy-Allen, 2015)
Poverty; a broad and complex term, which carries connotations of deserted places deprived of civilisation and resources. Whilst there are whole countries which have a way to develop to catch up with the more developed places, high levels of poverty also exist within developed countries. Many times, these poor groups of society live parallel with the richer half of the population, in an almost cruel mockery. The majority of us continue in our fast paced, money driven lifestyles and grow increasingly ignorant to the evidence of this divide around us. How many of us have really considered the true reality of it?
Let’s take a statistical look at the distribution of wealth across the globe.
The blue bars represent the percentage of global adult population, while the pink bars represent the share of total global wealth by percentage. The data reveals an unignorable fact; just over 70% of the population hold less than 3% of the world’s wealth – whilst less than 1% of the population own almost 50% of the worlds wealth. Staggering. This suggests that something in the way we govern, and trade is seriously wrong because this level of inequality is unjust. We have to question who the ‘top dogs’ are, and how they are getting their money. It probably won’t surprise you that over 40% of them are from the United States. There are many more statistics on wealth distribution available here (Inequality.org, 2017).
When researching levels of poverty, it is usually GDP (Gross Domestic Product) which is used for a comparison of wealth. Looking at wealth is a simple and easy method of understanding how rich and poor segments of society are, however poverty is much wider than that. What these values can’t tell you is where this income is going and the living conditions of the population. It is important to delve further because it gives a more accurate picture of the issues poorer people are facing; this is a starting point if we want to work towards improving these conditions. Researchers are beginning to recognise this, and thus turn to qualitative factors to measure the living conditions of groups of people. Some of these factors include, life expectancy, infant mortality. One factor which is particularly important is the share of income within a country. As I mentioned earlier what we fail to recognise is the extremities of living conditions within a country.
To put this in perspective we can take a look at the US. The US ranks number 1 for GDP, meaning it has the highest level of GDP, but their ranking for share of income of the richest 20% of their population is 5 meaning there is a larger gap between the richer and poorer half. This tells us that although America holds most of the riches, it distributed unevenly, giving way to poverty (Sayeed, 2016).
To demonstrate further, let’s take a look at the UK. It is recorded that 30% of children are classified as poor, said to be the highest since 2010 (Butler 2010). With austerity clawing at the pockets of working class families, more people are finding themselves monetarily stretched. Theresa May claimed that the economy was now stronger than ever, but John leader of Oxfam stated that there are more people in poverty in the UK for 20 years (Butler, 2017). This leaves individuals with hunger, little or no disposable income, and deteriorating conditions of mental health – a growing issue.
Often, conditions of poverty come from exploitation, for example sweatshops. Most people have heard of sweatshop sourced items such as clothing and coffee, being aware either through word of mouth or headlines. But with conversations quickly forgotten and media, in the modern age, as more of an entertainment than an information source, the meaning of sweat shop produced resources is entirely missed. A sweat shop is defined as a factory which violates two or more labour laws (DoSomething, 2017). Some examples of what these violations could be are, unfair wages, unreasonable hours, or child labour. To further explain the implications of this, it is estimated that there are roughly 18 Million children aged between 5 and 14 worldwide who are forced to work (DoSomething.org, 2017). It is not only developing countries such as Asia where sweatshops are based; America is known to be home to some of these conditions (Oxfam.org, 2017). They are inhumane and exploitative, usually taking advantage of the most vulnerable of us.
Sadly, it is not only children who are hit hard poverty but pensioners too. The number of pensioners living in poor conditions has been recorded as rising – with currently 300,000 more than in 2012/13 (Wright & Case, 2017). That is a significant number of individuals still receive a below average income, which does not compete with rising costs of living. The state has a responsibility to provide security to the public, particularly as a representative government.
The lack of responsibility from the state is also evident in the need for charities. I’ve always considered the existence of charities a symbol of the failure of the state, especially when you consider the role of the state from an economic nationalist point of view (O’brien & William, 2016. p.9-10). Firstly because of the obvious, lack of moral responsibility, but also because it just patches up symptoms rather than deal with the root causes of injustice. Charities fix poverty like salt water to a raging thirst; it will never eradicate the issues which cause it – until they are addressed poverty will not be resolved.
So, going back to what Nelson Mandela said, how CAN we rest when we know there are fellow human beings who live poorly. Many of the most vulnerable people are at the disadvantaged ends of our societies, as a people we have a moral obligation to help them. Not only is a global issue but a domestic one too; poverty exists right under our noses. The economy is not balanced and fair; It’s time to hold governmental bodies accountable, and demand humanitarian action. After all isn’t their job to serve the people?
Butler, P. (2017). Child Poverty At Highest Rates Since 2010, Figures Show, available at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/16/child-poverty-in-uk-at-highest-level-since-2010-official-figures-show [Accessed 10th December 2017]
DoSomething.org. (2017). 11 Facts About Sweatshops, available at https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-sweatshops [Accessed 10th December 2017]
Guy-Allen, C. (2015). 10 Powerful Quotes From Mandela’s Make Poverty History Speech available at https://www.one.org/us/2015/02/03/10-powerful-quotes-from-mandelas-make-poverty-history-speech/ [Accessed 10th December 2017]
Inequality.org. (2017). Global Inequality, available at https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality/ [Accessed 10th December 2017]
O’Brien, R & Williams, M. (2016). Global Political Economy: Palgrave Macmillan [p. 9-10]
Oxfam.org, (2017). Are Your Clothes Made In Sweatshops?, available at https://www.oxfam.org.au/what-we-do/ethical-trading-and-business/workers-rights-2/are-your-clothes-made-in-sweatshops/ [Accessed 10th December 2017]
Sayeed, H. (2016). Poverty Report, available at file:///C:/Users/Hana/Documents/Internation%20Politics%20Year%201/Poverty%20Report.pdf [Accessed 10th December 2017]
Wright, D & Case, R. (2017). UK Poverty 2017: Country Reaches Turning Point After Rises in Child and Pensioner Poverty, available at https://www.jrf.org.uk/press/uk-poverty-2017-country-reaches-turning-point [Accessed 10th December 2017]