Poverty Is Being Lost In A Sea Of Green

(I wrote this post for this year's Blog Action Day as a guest post for the Literacy and Poverty project, which is a social initiative and soon to be registered non-profit in New York focused on improving adult education and alleviating poverty. Check out their blog and website.)


Nothing about poverty is cool. It is tough, brutal, painful and cyclical. But it doesn't affect most of the people who can afford the technologies to be reading this, so for many of us it's always been easy to ignore. A hidden evil lurking in 'third world' countries. The saddest development is that even the little attention poverty had when it was simply the most pervasive of the global problems that didn't affect us directly, is being washed away in the tide of interest surrounding the Green movement.

Green has gone from cheap and homemade to cool and chic. From 'tree-huggers' to corporate speak. It is becoming iconic, and a status symbol that brands are associating themselves with. It affects the world we all live in, and therefore directly impacts our own personal interests - and so we take it seriously. Better still, it also costs most of us nothing more turning a few lights off and maybe going easy on the heating... which basically saves us money and again furthers our own interests while making us feel good about ourselves. More and more I see it turning into a McCarthyism thing. Show a disdain for eco-friendliness and you're an instant pariah. Can't argue with that of course. We need sustainability. Maybe we'll even save the planet before it's too late.

My question though is - Why isn't poverty like this? Why is it perfectly acceptable to show no interest in poverty at all? Global poverty is basically left out of sight, and kept out of mind. The pictures have become just that. Glossy prints of someone else's pain. An artist's rendition of reality instead of calls to action. As for local poverty, I regularly hear people righteously blaming the victims for their own situation... these 'people' should stop being so lazy, go and get a job, stop with the pregnancies, get off the streets, and on and on.

The problem is that unlike Green, the only way we can really impact institutional poverty is by redistributing a bit of our money either through donations for global causes, or through paying higher taxes for local ones. And giving away 'hard-earned' money is a concept a little too close to the bone. Nothing cheap and cheerful about it. So we look at poverty in ways that help justify our lack of action. We make like its not there and give it a wide berth. Ignorance is bliss.

But ignorance we can tackle. And making a difference starts with awareness, so I'm going to use a 'rich' country like the UK as a case in point and share 5 facts about poverty that you probably didn't know, but really, really should...

  1. Poverty has two definitions: Absolute and Relative.
    Absolute poverty also known as 'extreme poverty', is defined as living on less than $1.25 per day. The world bank estimates that 1.4 billion people currently live under these conditions. Relative poverty is used when talking about developed countries and currently stands at about $30 a day for a single adult.

  2. Poverty in the UK is defined as any income that is 60% or less than the average household income. 13 million people in the UK live on less than this.
    Doesn't sound too bad? This threshold works out at about £450 a month after tax and rent for a single adult, and worse still, just about £1200 for a family with two children. £300 per month per person, to cover all their other bills, travel, food, and living. That's one big night out plus a pretty cheap suit, if you want it in context. A full fifth of the UK population survives on less than this. Think about it.

  3. Over half a Million people in the UK are homeless
    100,000 families in the UK are classified as homeless. That's families. Not just individuals. That the Government knows of. Because they only count those who've applied to be classified that way and then succeeded in being recognised as 'officially' vulnerable. Crisis estimates another 400,000 hidden homeless. People don't end up homeless by choice and they don't stay that way because they are lazy. The causes are brutal, and the effects are devastating. Resulting clinical depression and mental health impacts are a major reason why many never make it back. Over 70% of homeless people suffer mental health issues but are 40 times less likely than the rest of us to be registered with a GP. You don't get far without an address.

  4. Children are not exempt. 3.9 million children in the UK are affected.
    Half of these children are in workless households, which means the UK has a higher proportion of children living in unemployed families than any other EU country. It doesn't get much better for young adults. 1.2 million young people of working age are not in employment, education or training (NEET). In London alone, that's 25% of 16-18 year olds with nowhere to go.

  5. Ethnicity only makes things worse. In the UK overall, 40% of people from ethnic minorities still live in poverty.
    This is twice the rate for White people. Some migrants like Indians and Black Caribbeans, most of whom originally came from middle class, English speaking backgrounds, have closed the gap with about 25% living in poverty, but for the others it is much much worse. 55% of Bangladeshis, 45% of Pakistanis and 30% of Black Africans are in 'low-income households'.

Anyway, I know this has been a long post, but I didn't just want it to be another pontification on the state of the world today. So thanks for reading. I hope the facts make you think, and even if they've opened your eyes just enough to share this post and pass it on to your friends, we can both say we've made a small difference...

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