When the word poverty comes up in discussions here in the UK I sometimes get the feeling that people don’t associate it with this part of the world. It’s often discussed like it’s a historical relic from less civilised times or an exotic animal found only in distant lands. But the truth is that poverty isn’t something that is only found abroad or in history books or in TV ads for charities. It’s here, now, and it’s all around us.
Poverty doesn’t just mean extreme poverty, the kind we imagine when we think of the world’s least developed countries, but rather poverty means the struggle to live from day to day, the struggle to put food on the table, to keep your home, the struggle that affects 13 million people in the UK today! Think about what that means: 1 in every 5 people that you pass tomorrow lives below the poverty line and many don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
And that’s why the Sustainable Development Goals are so important and why we can’t forget about them during the general election – they affect us all. Yet the word poverty really isn’t on the lips of our politicians. I’ve barely heard it mentioned but what I have heard mentioned is GDP. We don’t talk about poverty but we’re obsessed with economic growth because we’re fed the narrative that one solves the other but this simply isn’t true.
We’re told that increasing the country’s income is the way to combat poverty and rising GDP and job creation figures have been used to tell us that everything is OK and that things are improving. But, last year, when GDP rose by 2.6%, the number of people using UK food banks almost tripled to 1 million! We’re told that 1,000 new jobs are being created a day but with consistent inflation before 2015 making costs of living much higher without any significant rise in pay, not even employment is a guaranteed route out of poverty anymore.
Income growth can be a good thing but when combined with rising inequality it doesn’t mean people’s lives are improving and it certainly doesn’t mean poverty is being tackled, in fact the UK economy has doubled in size since the early 1980s and yet the number of those suffering below-minimum living standards has almost doubled alongside it.
The truth is you can’t tackle poverty without tackling inequality because poverty is relative to wealth within a society – you can be poor in London at an income level that wouldn’t make you poor in Bangladesh because more wealth in a society makes prices higher and raises the minimum acceptable standards of living. So by definition, if certain sectors of society are becoming disproportionately wealthy then it is harder for those left behind to live comfortable lives.
SDG1 says we need to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. In order to this:
We must reject the story that poverty will be solved by economic growth alone.
We must reject the idea that inequality is OK as long as overall incomes are increasing.
We must demand that our MPs commit to ending poverty at home and abroad.
For more information on the action/2015 campaign and youth click here. The action/2015 Youth Panel is co-facilitated by British Youth Council, BOND, Islamic Relief, Progressio and Restless Development and Y Care International.