Poverty is not just lack of money …

29 JUNE 2023

Poverty is not just lack of money …

A leading Charles Sturt University social work academic says elites and institutions have allowed poverty and the plight of poor people to persist.

He asks, “do they have the will - moral, political, economic, sociocultural – to eliminate hunger and eradicate poverty by 2030”?

By Professor in Social Work Manohar Pawar (pictured, inset) in the Charles Sturt School of Social Work and Arts. Professor Pawar is also editor of the International Journal of Community and Social Development (in which a fuller editorial of his perspectives appear in a special June 2023 issue).

In this abundant world, the power structure of elites and institutions has allowed poverty to persist and thereby the plight of poor people.

Do these elites and institutions have the will ─ moral, political, economic, sociocultural ─ to eliminate hunger and eradicate poverty by 2030?

The UN-geopolitical context

The era of United Nations (UN) millennium of development goals (MDGs), 2000–2015, particularly the goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1) and the declaration of the sustainable development goals on 25 September 2015, was unanimously endorsed and adopted by 193 countries.

This suggests the global consensus to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ (SDG 1) and to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’ (SDG 2) by 2030.

One hundred and ninety-three countries committed themselves ‘…to working tirelessly for the full implementation of this Agenda by 2030’:

‘We resolve, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources. We resolve also to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, taking into account different levels of national development and capacities’.

The latest achievement data from the SDG progress report (United Nations, 2023) shows that most of the countries and the world are far from achieving the set targets.

Cumulative crises - the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, wars, conflicts, and political-economy decisions - have significantly impacted the progress of the SDGs.

United Nations SDGs report (2022) stated that the number of people living in poverty has increased, wiping out the progress made over the last four years. Extreme poverty has increased from 8.3 per cent to 9.2 per cent, pushing an additional 93 million people into extreme poverty.

Workers living in extreme poverty increased from 6.7 per cent in 2019 to 7.2 per cent in 2020, adding eight million workers into poverty.

The report further states, ‘Rising food prices and the broader impacts of the war in Ukraine could

push that number even higher, to 95 million, leaving the world even further from meeting the target of ending extreme poverty by 2030’.

This is also well reflected in drops in global human development index values in 87 countries in 2020 and 51 countries in 2021.

Given mixed trends and non-achievement of the targets, or progress not on track as outlined above, it has been predicted that extreme poverty and hunger will continue, and an estimated seven per cent of the world population (575 million) will remain in extreme poverty in 2030 (United Nations, 2023).

No progress

Analysis also seems to suggest no progress in reducing poverty. Poverty and food insecurity not only increased during the pandemic and related disasters, but also during the post-pandemic recovery time.

International Monetary Fund’s (IMF, 2023) analysis shows that low-income developing countries and emerging market and middle-income economies are more vulnerable to food insecurity than advanced economies.

The IMF has noted the major forces and crises that affected the world in 2022 seem likely to continue in 2023. The post-pandemic recovery time has experienced pent-up demand,

disruptions in supply chain and an increase in commodity prices.

Policy choices seem to be difficult; increasing interest rates, curbing inflation, avoiding recession, ensuring financial and market stability, and protecting the poor and vulnerable are complex challenges. Halfway to 2030, the promise made by 193 countries is in peril.

Why is the commitment unanimously pledged by 193 countries not able to be translated in

their national and local contexts according to the targets? Is it the lack of political will, resources, or something else?

There seems to be not only a disconnection, or a weak connection, among poverty, policy, and poor people in terms of alleviating their poverty, but there also seem to be certain decisions and consequent policies and actions that tend to result in more people experiencing poverty, making it harder to overcome. For example, even in Australia the rising cost-of-living crisis has pushed many people into poverty, including those who are working.

Decisions to go to war and supplying arms to warring parties will result in mass movements of people as refugees are suddenly plunged into poverty in their own country or in neighbouring countries.

Inaction or inadequate action to prepare well and to develop resilience to cope with natural disasters often leaves many people in poverty following disasters.

A way forward

If the economic and market systems along with new technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, robots), including monetary policies of central banks and fiscal policies of governments, are creating unemployment and not creating adequate employment opportunities, such systems should be accountable to pay income to people without calling them unemployed, without any conditions and without accusing them of the situation they (the poor and unemployed people) are not responsible for.

The consensus by mainstream economists is that ‘the best way to help people out of poverty is with unrestricted cash benefits’. Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee has demonstrated this by conducting large scale randomised trials relating to poverty relief in developing countries.

Therefore, rather than just considering policies and programs related to poverty, it is critical to think about connections and disconnections among poverty conditions, policies and programs and poor people as human beings.

We need to make those connections meaningful, to overcome poverty and influence governments and decision makers to commit adequate resources and take practical steps to end poverty and hunger by engaging people.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Professor Manohar Pawar, contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au

Reference: Pawar M. ‘Poverty, Policy and the Poor’, in International Journal of Community and Social Development (Sage Journals), Vol 5, Issue 2, first published 27 June 2023.

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