“Poverty affects millions of people …Poverty means not being able to heat your home, pay your rent, or buy the essentials for your children. It means waking up every day facing insecurity, uncertainty, and impossible decisions about money. It means facing marginalisation—and even discrimination—because of your financial circumstances. The constant stress it causes can lead to problems that deprive people of the chance to play a full part in society”
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Bearing in mind “there is no one correct, scientific, agreed definition ...poverty is inevitably a political concept ...and thus inherently a contested one …what commentators mean by poverty depends to some extent on what they intend or expect to do about it” (Alcock, 1997). Consequently, the study of poverty is hugely important in terms of understanding international injustice. Primarily, poverty and the debates surrounding it account for the material inequalities between different groups of people and encompasses areas such as health, housing, education, wealth, the environment and crime. When taken as a whole, it encapsulates “the lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods” (United Nations, 2021) whereby manifestations include exclusion from accessing services, forms of social discrimination, rejection and a lack of power regarding participatory decision-making.
Furthermore, poverty often intersects with the underrepresentation of the most vulnerable groups in society (particularly along the lines of gender, Indigenous origin, ethnicity, class and disability) while the causes of poverty directly relate to the “things that reduce your resources or increase your needs and the costs of meeting them” (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2021). For instance, unemployment or redundancy, low-level skills, high costs of good services and an inadequate welfare system are all contributing factors. To varying degrees, this also means that all societies navigate the complex and multidimensional nature of poverty in an attempt to negotiate increasing concerns about poverty as associated feelings of insecurity and ‘precarity’ arise and become a normal part of lived experiences. To reiterate, debates surrounding poverty are complex, political and often reliant on differential notions of living standards. Broadly speaking, there are two definitions:
Relative poverty: a more subjective social measure of poverty that relates to the prevailing standards in a society at a particular moment in time. Poverty is relative to the standards experienced by others in wider society.
Absolute poverty: an attempt at a more objective definition linked to subsistence. People are deemed to be in poverty if they do not have the resources to physically maintain human life (namely, access to adequate food, shelter and healthcare).
More globally, these definitions vary but poverty tends to be measured mostly in subsistence terms. Often, though, it is by taking into account different standards of living. Moreover, when this is set too low by governments, welfare systems struggle to ensure that people are able to have full inclusionary lives. A particular example of this is the ‘international poverty line’ which is defined by the values of goods to sustain an individual adult (in 2020, for example, it was claimed to be $1.90 per day). This meant that, according the World Bank, there were 700 million people in absolute poverty in 2015 (falling from 900 million in 2012). Yet crucially, more than 160 million children will be at risk of continuing to live in extreme poverty by 2030. Even then, this definition is limited in that it does not account for many social and relative indicators of poverty or broader factors such as sanitation, water and electricity.
However, as 10 per cent of the world population live below the international poverty line, the matter of poverty will remain significant for all those engaged in the multifarious aspects of social justice (and injustice) for generations. Concerns such as environmental destruction and the emergence of Covid-19 have placed greater importance on finding ways of supporting the world’s poorest populations (especially as 4 billion do not benefit from any form of social protection as of 2016).
Indeed, instead of closing the gap between the wealthy and those in poverty, the opposite is increasingly becoming more apparent to the extent that the Western (Minority) World is now seeing an increase in homeless people who lack financial resources, access to food and healthcare. As a consequence, absolute poverty is more commonplace globally when it should not exist at all. And it is precisely this growth of extreme poverty, whichever definition used and wherever it exists, that (In)Justice International is intent on exposing, apportioning blame and offering possible resolutions to save the needless loss of life. For related videos click here.