What is poverty?
Many people think of poverty as simply not having much money, when in reality poverty is far more complex. Global poverty is usually made up of different factors, and felt in different ways in different communities.
The United Nations defines poverty as:
“… a denial of choices and opportunities and a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living on marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.”
(See: United Nations Copenhagen Agreement, World Summit for International Development, 1995)
Poverty and inequality are closely linked: inequality, particularly economic inequality, is growing globally, with large disparities between and within countries. Three quarters of the global poor now live in middle income countries.
Definitions of poverty often centre on what are considered the ‘basic needs’ for human survival. These include needs such as food, water, clothes and shelter. There are two broadly accepted types of poverty – extreme poverty and relative poverty.
What is extreme poverty?
The World Bank considers a person to be living in extreme poverty if they cannot afford their basic needs like shelter, water, food, adequate nutrition or vital healthcare. This is the kind of poverty most often experienced by people in developing countries.
Generally, extreme poverty is defined as an individual earning an amount under the international poverty line of $US1.25 per day. For children, this can mean a cycle of disadvantage that can be especially hard to break. From an early age, hunger and malnutrition can lead to underdevelopment and stunting. Limited educational opportunities can place children at risk of health problems, and further increase the likelihood of early marriage or vulnerability to recruitment for child labour. The consequences of extreme poverty often severely limit a child’s ability to fulfil their potential, a cycle that can continue throughout their lifetime and into future generations.
What is relative poverty?
Even in many reasonably wealthy developed countries, reducing poverty remains a key concern. However there are often key differences in how poverty is experienced when compared with developing countries.
In general terms ‘relative poverty’ is poverty in relation to the economic status of others within a society. That is, a person can experience relative poverty if they fall below the common standards of living of the community in which they live. In countries like Australia, poverty is more commonly experienced in relative rather than extreme terms.
Yet poverty is often far more than just income. Nowadays, relative poverty is also understood in terms of social exclusion. Those who experience relative poverty may lack or be denied resources, rights and services that are otherwise available to the majority in a given society.
Luckily, in Australia the government and a range of not-for-profit organisations such as the Smith Family are able to provide support to many people experiencing poverty.
Extreme poverty and inequality
Poverty and inequality are closely connected. Widespread inequalities, such as gender, income and urban/rural divides mean that many of the world’s poorest communities face significant barriers in overcoming poverty.
This kind of inequality reinforces other aspects of poverty and exclusion. That’s why organisations like CARE aim to promote and ensure equality across all areas of our work, recognising it as a vital means of eradicating poverty.
Learn more by reading the case studies below and introducing some of the individuals CARE works with to your class.
How CARE is helping communities to overcome extreme poverty?
CARE works with poor communities in developing countries to stop the cycle of poverty and injustice.
Our long-term programs provide the means for communities to access food, clean water, basic healthcare and education, and to create opportunities for communities to be active participants in the process of building a better future.
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