Have you eaten today? If not was it because you chose not to or because you didn’t have enough money to do so? And if you have, did you have to think carefully about what you could afford, or did you eat whatever you fancied?
Whoever we are, and however much money we do or don’t have, a lot of the time we’re so focussed on living our daily lives we (understandably) don’t stop to think about how we’ve got to where we are – whether that’s making difficult choices about how we spend our last few coins, having so much money we don’t know what to do with it, or something in between.
It’s also easy to forget how connected our lives, and our money, really are. We can all get our heads around the idea that if someone takes too much of something, someone else will have less, but when it comes to poverty we’re often told that ‘we’re born into it’, or ‘it’s just the economy’, or ‘the wealth will trickle down’, or ‘we’re just lazy/unlucky/unfortunate’. These are such powerful stories that they’re easy to believe, but they all hide the fact that poverty is created – it doesn’t happen by chance.
Imagine two children – one child grows up in a house that’s warm and dry, with shelves full of books and a fridge full of food; parents who can afford to stay at home and look after them; a private education in a well-resourced school with teachers who love their jobs; and, as an adult, access to loans and internships and connections. Today they live comfortably, with a lifestyle like their parents and children of their own.
The other child grows up in a damp, noisy, busy house, with parents who must work several jobs; education in a school with large classes, little funding and stressed teachers; and, as an adult, no access to loans, financial commitments at home and little help finding work. Today they live in poverty, with a lifestyle like their parents and children of their own.
Imagine two countries – one country fosters innovation and develops its industries; it travels across the world to trade with other civilisations; it manufactures weapons which it sells to others; it forces millions of people from other lands to leave their families, jobs and lives to work for them in slavery; it divides up continents and groups of people and rules over them – creating new countries where citizens must work power the empire’s economy; its companies take billions of dollars of resources from other countries without fair retribution whilst damaging ecosystems; it lends money to other countries with an expectation to be repaid with interest; it teaches its values, religion and worldview and wages war on countries and people who do not play by its rules. Now this country is (largely) economically, politically and societally stable, with a large proportion of its population living comfortably above the poverty line.
The other country fosters innovation and develops its industries; it begins trading with visiting nations from overseas; it buys weapons manufactured there; millions of its people are forced to leave their families, jobs and lives to work abroad in slavery or are killed; its people are divided up into new territories and ruled over by foreign countries and forced to grow crops to power foreign economies; its resources are extracted by multinational corporations from abroad and both produce and profit are sent overseas leaving only environmental devastation; it borrows large sums of money from other nations to try and compensate with so much interest it can never be repaid; its values, religions and worldview are criticised, undermined and systematically destroyed, and it is physically attacked if it doesn’t play by the rules. Now this country is economically, politically and societally unstable, with a large proportion of its population living in poverty and hunger.
There are hundreds of stories, just like these, that show that poverty exists because it is created.
You only have to do the maths… the 85 richest people in the world have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3 billion. Is that just a coincidence?
Every year 18 times more money leaves poor countries in the global south than trickles into them... and we wonder why they’re poor?
This month, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are telling us a good-news story, and it’s one we all want to hear – that things are getting better and that if we keep doing things largely in the same way, with charities and technical fixes we can end centuries of global poverty creation by 2030.
Don’t get me wrong, I too would like to end global poverty by 2030, but we think that it’s not going to happen until we start admitting that poverty is created, not a state of nature, spot of bad luck, or a disease that humans can ‘cure’ but don’t ‘create’.
So although we all want to feel good about the world, I’d like to invite you to start finding the gaps in the stories we’re being told about poverty and start asking the BIG questions:
- How is poverty created? # PovertyIsCreated
- Why is growth the only answer? #WhyGrowth
- Who’s developing who? #WhosDevelopingWho
When we’re really honest about what’s going on, then we can look at breaking the creaky, archaic, unfair rules with game-changing and exciting possibilities like updating the money system so that it doesn’t just create debt; moving to a steady-state economy so that it’s in balance with nature; putting limits on the power of big companies so that we can have real democracy; or considering a basic income for everyone so we can spend less time fighting and more time loving, and where both of the children and the citizens of the countries we talked about earlier would share fairer, more equal lives.