When are we going to start talking about the poverty crisis?

When we hear about poverty we are usually given a barrage of numbers and figures – more than 3 billion people live in poverty, 1 billion children live in poverty, 805 million people struggle to put food on the table, and so on. But if these figures that we are bombarded with are true, we must ask, why isn’t more being done about it?

There’s no denying that poverty is a global crisis. It isn’t an issue which effects just one country – 5 miles down the road there might be a family struggling to make ends meat. In fact, UK Poverty 2017 report published by JRF highlights that in the UK 14 million people live in poverty. But how many need to be in this position before more political intervention takes place? 

When we think of crisis we usually jump to events which are sudden, shocking and involve some form of violence or conflict. The conflict in Libya, the nuclear threat, terrorism – the list goes on. These events flood our TV screens every day and within hours politicians respond with opinions, statements, reassurances and plans for action.

These events are usually of interest to the people watching at home, often because they somehow effect them – whether that be directly or indirectly. But what we very rarely see are the struggles of people living through poverty, famine, drought and other life threatening situations. These usually happen away from the glare of television screens and aren’t seen as crisis in the same light as other immediate events. But they still effect people every day on a large global scale and deserve the same attention and action as any other crisis.

But why isn’t poverty seen as a crisis in the same light as conflict? One opinion on this is the idea that poverty is not addressed as a crisis because the ‘global north’ is detached from it. Academics such as Susan Marks in her work ‘Human Rights and the Bottom Billion’ have commented on how poverty is caused by domestic factors within a country and not something which involves others. But in some cases this couldn’t be further from the truth.

It can be argued that poverty in many ways is caused by structural global trends and Marks has commented on how “the idea of prosperity may be linked to poverty, and even in some way are dependent upon it.” Globalisation is just one example of a system which creates prosperity for some, but doesn’t provide the same level of benefits for others. But at the same time a country which is considered ‘developed’ can still see high levels of poverty, for example the UK. This shows how poverty isn’t something which a country can be detached from. It’s something that effects us all and is a crisis that needs to be focused on.   

Whilst levels of poverty around the world are still at shocking highs it is unfair to say that absolutely nothing is being done to help prevent poverty, because it is. Just one example of action is the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations in 2015, which outline the commitments to eradicating poverty. The UK Government has also acknowledged poverty closer to home and set up many strategies to help alleviate it, including the Child Poverty Strategy 2014-17. Whilst these are steps in the right direction, these once again have an emphasis on numbers and fail to look deeper into the causes of poverty and are only breaking the surface of the crisis. 

Poverty can prevent people from reaching their fullest potential, and the valuable skills those people could contribute back into the society and economy are missed. When it comes to the idea of a crisis, the slow nature of poverty often leaves it just out of the eye of politicians and the media. When it is reported on, the deeper, underlying issues and causes are often overlooked. Whilst international and domestic political bodies are taking steps in the right direction to try and eradicate poverty more needs to be done in addressing its root causes, rather than looking at its immediate effect.

Photo Credit: Popular Resistance.