more on poverty

It is my pleasure to include these musings from my colleague, now guest blogger, Derek.

To steal a line from Phil Collins, Think about it, if you’re reading this blog, it’s just another day in Paradise. You’ve got access to the internet, will probably have 3 good meals, have clothes on your back (and more in the cupboard), slept in a bed, live in a house. I could go on. 

In the UK there are apparently 2.5 million pensioners living beneath the official poverty line. Roughly 5% of the population and that’s just pensioners. In Australia apparently approximately 10% of the population are considered to be living in Poverty.  Apparently, when Phil Collins wrote the song he was not inspired by the plight of the homeless, it did stir connotations of an experience he had in Washington DC where he saw people living in boxes only a stone’s throw away from the affluent parts of town. That was 20 years ago. 100 years ago, when the pension was first introduced in the UK, the workhouse was still a feature of British life. Poverty has been a part of what we would ‘think’ was “1st world” life for too long to remember. Poverty so often is thought of as the plight of those living in the developing world; those examples are too numerous to list. It is an epidemic problem the world over that cannot be ignored.

Even given the damage done in recent months in the economies of the world, the global wealth is sufficient to solve this problem, yet for so long the courage and conviction to address the issues has not existed.  In his 2005 work, The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs wrote that “Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time. […] with the right policies and key interventions, extreme poverty – defined as living on less than $1 a day – can be eradicated within 20 years.”   20 years … That’s nothing.

So what’s stopping us? Clearly unless our Governments take this seriously and decide it is a priority to become involved in a meaningful way, nothing will happen. Clearly until each of us individually takes this seriously and decides that it is a priority to become involved in a meaningful way, our Governments will not react.

I’m not pretending that it’s not a complex problem but it is within our grasp to “Make Poverty History“;  What a legacy that would be! I know we can’t do it all, but we can each do something.

The challenge is to work out what influence we can have and how best to capitalise on our good fortune; this is what I struggle with most. I’m probably quite typical: My family support children and communities through sponsorship type arrangements;  My business allocates a percentage of profits to charitable causes. We give away clothes and toys and ‘things’ accumulated that we don’t need. It’s easy for it to feel like it’s not significant and that there’s more that could be done. The focus this week on poverty has prompted me to consider how to keep the issue front of mind for my local MP.

 I’d be interested to know what other people are doing .


It was 1984 when ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ moved poverty into pop culture. It took a long time but in the early part of this decade, there seemed to be a growing consensus among thinking people that global poverty was the moral issue of our time. Some high profile things were happening:

In September 2000, the world’s leaders signed on to the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing to 8 major goals including halving extreme poverty by 2015.

Prior to that, the Jubilee 2000 campaign had significantly raised awareness of the economic injustice associated with development efforts.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started investing so much money in health & education in the developing world it redefined the space and provoked lots of debate about the nature of monopolies, not just in the IT world.

The Make Poverty History and Micah Challenge campaigns got real traction, helped by the endorsement of pop culture icons like Bono.

Economists were also part of the call to action. By the time Jeffrey Sachs wrote The End of Poverty,  and CK Prahalad wrote Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, the public conversation had moved beyond charity. Yes, not-for-profits were increasing the rigour and professionalism of their operations. But business began to explore commercially sustainable ways to develop the opportunities among poorer communities via mass, low cost products such as alternative energy solutions. Mohammad Yunus won a Nobel Prize for his Grameen Bank work, the mother of mass micro-financing. And voices like Sachs’ were calling for tri-sector (Government, Business and NGO) approaches injecting hope that we could reach the targets set by the Millennium Develop Goals.

But then came the Climate Crisis. The attention shifted from the moral imperative associated with poverty, to the survival instinct related to Climate Change. Understandably. However, what needs to be reinforced is the relationship between climate change and poverty.

The implications for the North/West are all over our magazines and newspapers. But it is the poor who will have the most difficultly in adapting. Water shortages through Central Asia, extreme climate and geological events, rising sea levels, economic adjustments in developed countries to accommodate the low carbon imperative … and many other factors will all have a dramatic effect on the world’s poor.

It reminds me of a conversation I was part of in the nineties. Many of my friends were choosing lifestyles that enabled them to identify with people living in poor. It is true that one sees the world differently from ‘underneath’. However, part of this conversation was about understanding that poverty is not actually about material wealth, rather it is about the ability to participate in what is on offer. This might be about the capacity to get public transport to the CentreLink, or it might be about accessing medical assistance for mental illness etc. So, it is not really possible for those of us who are ‘powerful’ in the sense that we can access what our society offers, to choose voluntary poverty. At any point, if we chose to, we could step out.

I think the relationship between Climate Change and Poverty holds some parallels. Yes, it will be tough for those of us in developed countries to make the dramatic lifestyle changes required to lower our carbon footprint. But we do so from a position of power. We will survive.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for the poorest people. Poverty must not be allowed to slip off the agenda in light of the growing need to act on Climate Change.