• Freddie Newell

Have efforts to alleviate poverty been productive?

First and foremost, we must break down this question to answer it. – What is poverty, exactly?

Poverty is a situation where people lack the resources they require to live a secure, stable, and fulfilling existence. Poverty is split into two categories: income poverty and a lack of social requirements. Income poverty is defined as having no income or having a wage that is insufficient to live comfortably, whereas a lack of social needs is defined by a lack of certain socioeconomic features such as access to education or healthcare. Poverty is not a single entity; there are several varieties of poverty, the most common of which are absolute and relative poverty.

Absolute poverty exists when a person earns less than $1.25 per day. It assesses poverty in terms of an individual's capacity to meet basic needs, such as clothing, food, and water, while ignoring social aspects. Relative poverty, on the other hand, compares the states of multiple households. Rather than using a global statistic, it compares household income to a country's average income, to assess whether people have the bare minimum of income required to maintain average living standards in a country. To put this in context, the UK Parliament just produced a report stating that 10 million individuals in the UK are currently living in relative poverty, a number that has undoubtedly risen as a result of COVID-19, Brexit, and other external forces beyond the public's control.

When the United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945, one of its goals was to "advance social progress and improved standards of life in greater freedom," and in 2000, eight specific development themes and targets were created, which were later dubbed the "Millennium Development Goals" (MDGs). These were the first international human development goals, with 189 member nations and 23 intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) committing to the targets. The number of people living on less than US$1.25 per day had decreased from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million by 2015 when the MDGs expired and has been hailed as the most successful anti-poverty movement.

However, they did not achieve the original MDGs' goal of eradicating extreme poverty, indicating a failure. Despite this, the problem in fixing this issue is the underlying reasons for poverty, which continue to exist in a more globalized society.

The concept of the "North-South Divide" is one of the most significant causes of poverty. Former West German Chancellor Willy Brant invented the term in 1980 to describe how the world was "geographically divided into relatively wealthy and poorer nations." Wealthier countries are mostly found in the Northern Hemisphere, except for Australia and New Zealand. This is referred to as the ‘Global North. Equally, poorer countries are mostly found in tropical regions and the Southern Hemisphere, and this is referred to as the ‘Global South.'

The Global North is viewed as the wealthier hemisphere because of the North's industrialization and manufacturing, as well as its role in shaping global free-trade accords. This is in stark contrast to the Global South, where a lack of industrialisation and an over-reliance on agriculture were not producing enough wealth, combined with the fact that Global South nations and their exports were excluded and not included in the North's free-trade agreements, resulting in an unequal playing field. Furthermore, MNCs located in the North exploited southern states for their natural resources and inexpensive labour, with earnings going back to and benefiting the North rather than being shared with the South. As a result, the North became increasingly reliant on the South for FDI, manufactured goods, skills, and technology. This is still true in the modern world, with the world's largest TNCs and MNCs headquartered in the North rather than the South. States like India, which have rapidly industrialised and increased their economic output ($2.869 BGDP), still have significant poverty, with ‘364 million' residents living in absolute poverty as of 2019, while other states continue to endure worsening poverty. As a result of the continuous exploitation, neglect, and proletarianization by the Global North and TNCs, Bangladesh has "more than 3.3 million people living in terrible poverty" while Pakistan has "55 million people living in extreme poverty."

The increased rate of globalisation exacerbates this socioeconomic problem. Although economic globalisation has increased foreign direct investment in developing countries and allowed the global economy to become more interconnected, and interdependent, with a greater transnational flow of goods, services, and capital, and if taxed effectively, can generate revenue that can be spent on decentralisation. However, as I argued in my article on tax avoidance, many multinational corporations (MNCs) set up factories in developing countries and transfer skilled employees from developed countries to avoid paying taxes, and this is one of the main reasons why these countries are unable to provide for their citizens' futures or provide appropriate facilities for them to reach their full potential.

During the post-World War II period, decolonisation took place, with the majority of colonized governments becoming independent nation-states in their own right. This led to the partition of British India into the modern-day states of Pakistan and India in 1947 for the United Kingdom. Decolonisation and the colonisation period have had a variety of effects on global poverty, with borders drawn without concern for ethnic unity but rather for political expediency, which has been a role in some ethnic disputes, such as the one between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Furthermore, many local populations' capacity was not always completely developed, and when these governments won independence following decolonisation, some had little experience with self-government, resulting in a great deal of governance instability, as seen in most of Africa.

As a result, while international organizations have made some successful measures to reduce poverty, it has become evident that if we are to overcome this issue, we will need to see several changes. To slow the rate of globalisation, western nations must make a firm commitment to hold multinational corporations (MNCs) accountable for tax evasion and funnel this money into developing countries so that they can provide proper facilities, institutions, and basic equipment to their citizens. MNCs are to blame for pressuring developing countries to open their borders. Furthermore, to bridge the North-South divide, international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Group of Seven (G7), and the Group of Twenty (G20) must collaborate to better include Global South states in free trade agreements, rather than just emerging economic powers like China and India. However, as a result of the emergence of COVID-19, global poverty is bound to rise, and as we have seen with vaccine nationalism and the WHO's COVAX program, governments are taking a more realist, egocentric, and self-centred approach to global politics. As humanitarian aid falls (as evidenced by the UK's reduction to 0.5 percent of GNP), poverty is expected to rise for the foreseeable future, unless states decide that it is once again in their best interests to work together to solve global concerns.


[1] Global Politics for A-level – Robert Murphy, John Jefferies and Josie Gadsby

2 https://www.rgs.org/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?nodeguid=9c1ce781-9117-4741-af0a-a6a8b75f32b4&lang=en-GB

3 https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/governance/mass-poverty-is-back-in-india-76348

4 https://borgenproject.org/tag/poverty-in-bangladesh/#:~:text=Progress%20and%20Development%20in%20Bangladesh,and%20health%20and%20reducing%20poverty.