Poverty is a product of inequality

The amount of money a person has (in income and/or assets) represents their particular claim on the world’s resources. The rich have much more money than they could ever reasonably need leaving less to go round for the rest. Economic growth seems increasingly incapable of ameliorating this brute fact. It is clear that a rising tide does not lift all boats. Trickledown never trickled, the money gushed upwards instead. We can see this in global terms and we can see it within nations, even rich developed ones such as the UK where a minimum wage worker would have to work for 375 years to earn one year’s CEO remuneration.

To read much of recent discourse you could be forgiven for thinking that poverty is a discrete phenomenon, one that occurs mysteriously in a vacuum and is separate from – and unrelated to – the overall distribution of income and wealth prevailing across the world or within any particular country. Stories of excess and poverty are rarely linked or even presented in close proximity. Did you know, for example, that food bank Britain is now Europe’s leading importer of Ferraris?  And did you know that our market for luxury properties is booming while a record number of families are being housed in B&B’s?  By the time people have skipped from the Business section to News & Current Affairs these grim contrasts, and any possible link between them, can begin to fade in the mind. 

But all is not lost. There have been some encouraging developments in recent times that suggest increasing numbers of people and organisations realise that poverty is a product of inequality. Major NGO’s such as Oxfam and Save The Children have made explicit calls for inequality to be tackled. Demands have also been made to put inequality at the heart of the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals. Such progress has been aided by the work of people such as Nicholas Shaxson and the Tax Justice Network drawing attention to the ongoing scandal of tax havens where a vast chunk of the world’s money is currently stashed, unavailable for the alleviation of poverty or any other socially useful tasks. 

If we can get to a situation where poverty is automatically understood to be a part of inequality then we will have made great strides towards re-building the case for re-distribution of income and wealth.

Bill Kerry, Secretary of The Equality Trust