I started this 17 week blog challenge to learn about the Sustainable Development Goals. They are a set of goals by the United Nations that highlight the social, environmental and economic progress we need to make by 2030 to ensure no one is left behind.

This is my first week of the challenge and I am starting at Goal #1: No Poverty. As the core ambition behind the Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure no one is left behind, this goal seems apt to be number 1. However, what a task! As it is such a complex and multi faceted challenge, it was hard to condense it and I know I hardly captured the half of it!

Poverty is a global problem that includes the severe lack of secure possessions which significantly reduces the quality of a person’s life. It is an incredibly complex issue and cannot be alleviated by addressing one action alone. People living in poverty struggle to acquire basic needs like access to food, healthcare, education, shelter and safety. It is not simply about putting food on the table or giving someone temporary accommodation. It is about empowerment and promoting equal opportunity for all.

SDG Targets

The SDG Targets for No Poverty address a broad spectrum of factors with everything from extreme poverty to localised poverty. They also address child poverty and intersectional poverty:

  • 1.1 By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty to all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less that $1.25 per day (this is now updated to $1.90 per day)
  • 1.2 By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to¬† national definitions
  • 1.3 Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and vulnerable
  • 1.4 By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate technology and financial services, including microfinance
  • 1.5 By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure to vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters
  • 1.a Ensure significant mobilisation of resources from a range of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions
  • 1.b Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions

These targets show the importance of policy, funding and empowerment to support equality as economic growth occurs. It also shows the focus on building resilience for all countries. This will help bounce back from shocks like natural disasters as well the current pandemic crisis.

Progress to date

There is good news and bad news when it comes to poverty reduction. In the last 10 years, extreme poverty dropped dramatically across the world. However the rate of change is decelerating and the global pandemic has set the target back. The pandemic pushed about 70 million people worldwide back into extreme poverty in this year alone. This is the first year in decades that shows an increase in global poverty, driven by the pandemic.

Climate change accelerating poverty

There is a downward trajectory globally for extreme poverty. However, it seems that by 2030, the majority of those living in extreme poverty will be in Sub-Saharan Africa. These figures are projected to be around 400 million in 2030. Overall, about 479 million people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day).

This is particularly problematic as Sub-Saharan Africa will become even more vulnerable to climate change related disasters. The Climate Vulnerability Index shows that 9 out of 10 most vulnerable countries are from Sub-Saharan Africa. These countries include Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Liberia, Burundi. They will all see strong population growth in the next 30 years.

This presents a poverty lens to climate change. According to the World Bank, the average person living in sub-Saharan Africa produced around 0.8 metric tons of CO2 in 2014. In comparison, about 6.4 metric tons was produced for the average European, and around 16.5 metric tons for the average American.

So although there is progress, the concentration of extreme poverty is in countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

If you want to look at the targets and their progress in more detail, check out the SDG tracker. They have some interesting and thought provoking data visualisations.

(Note- much of the data is old 2014-16, so will not have relevant pandemic data).

Poverty in Australia

Poverty happens everywhere. Extreme poverty is one incredibly important target and largely focused on developing countries. However, poverty still happens everywhere.

According to ACOSS, Australia has the 16th highest poverty rate out of the 34 wealthiest countries in the OECD. This is higher than the average for the OECD and also higher than the UK, Germany and New Zealand.

People living in poverty in Australia miss out on essentials such as food or stable housing. In Australia in 2020, there are 3.24 million people (13.6%) living below the poverty line of 50% of median income. This includes 774,000 children (17.7%) and 424,800 young people (13.9%). In dollar figures, this poverty line works out to $457 a week for a single adult living alone; or $960 a week for a couple with 2 children.

When the COVID pandemic hit, ABS Labour Force data showed a further estimated 594,000 people lost paid work. This increases the prospect of more people falling below the poverty line.

Employment is the greatest risk to living in poverty in Australia as the unemployment payments are incredibly low in Australia. When it comes to unemployment payments, the amount was effectively frozen in 1997 by the Howard Government. They tied NewStart to inflation while the pension was pegged to wages. Last year the Greens proposed a bill for a minimum $75 increase in unemployment payments. Raise the Rate, led by ACOSS, highlights the need for long term increases in unemployment payments.

Poverty, power and opportunity

There is also a strong racial dimension to poverty. Minority groups are more likely to live in cycles of poverty.

For example, in the USA, in 2018, 1 in 6 American children (12 million) lived in poverty. According to Barbara Lee, in an interview on the Ezra Klein Show, 31 percent of American Indians were living below the poverty line, 29 percent of African American children, 23 percent of Latinx children, 11 percent of AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] children, 9 percent of white children.

The benefits of poverty eradication in USA and many countries around the world would far outweigh the costs.  However, due to the racial dimension of poverty eradication, policy and systemic change is slow moving. The power dynamic of poverty is important to highlight and is a problem around the globe.

Poverty eradication has strong ties to economic growth. It is well known that for developing countries as the middle class grows, poverty decreases. This is true, however when there is a focus purely on economic growth as a driver for poverty reduction it can actually drive an even greater gap between the middle class and the poor. Poverty and inequality are intrinsically linked . This means that any solution to alleviate poverty needs a mix of policy, programs, philanthropy and social progress that all focus on equality.

Global examples from Planet B Insights

Finland has some of the lowest poverty rates in the world. When I was there last year I met with the Finnish Government to hear more about their Universal Basic Income experiment. This is an important and innovative policy option to decrease poverty and increase social security. Check out more of their findings here.

Another approach I saw on my travels was in Azerbaijan, a social enterprise called Buta Arts and Sweets who employ women with disabilities, who are most vulnerable. Read more about their approach here.

In Greece, Ithaca Laundry supports those living on or below the poverty line with a regular laundry service. Read more here.

Are we on track for 2030?

Short answer is no. We need a mix of reform, climate action, equality, philanthropy, generosity and humanity to see eradication of extreme poverty and local poverty reductions.

What can we do?

There are many things we can do. We can donate, advocate, talk about the issue, change our behaviour and grow our awareness.

There are some charities I particularly like that are working to eradicate extreme poverty. The Effective Altruism movement highlights organisations that have the highest estimated intervention effectiveness, impact per dollar and transparency. This means that the money is going to the areas with the highest impact and is more likely to fund interventions that coordinate advocacy, policy change, programs and ongoing local support.

If you want your money to go directly to those in need…

From this group, I found Give Directly, through the Life you Can Save. Give Directly locates extremely poor communities using publicly available data. Once they verify that the local communities are not subject to corruption or other negative factors, they electronically transfer up to $1000 per household for the families to spend on money that they deem most important. The research is really promising on this and is a good use case.

If you want to donate to research driven impact…

Innovations for Poverty Action work across 21 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Their programs range from business, education, healthcare and social protection. All of their programs use a strong research base to identify interventions. They then work with local workers to ensure longevity and sustainability of the interventions.

If you want to eradicate poverty closer to home…

Get in touch with your Federal Member of Parliament through the Raise the Rate for Good campaign. Check out their page here.

If you want to get informed…

Getting informed is also important. Read more about the Sustainable Development Goal #1 here.

I also found the Ezra Klein Show podcast interview with Barbara Lee to be a really interesting one. It highlights the mental health challenges of those living in poverty and how poverty enables systemic oppression of racial minorities. Many of these themes are common to Australia as well. Especially looking at why policy is not shifting at the rates we need for equality in our communities.

Also, we must remember the link between climate action and poverty reduction. We all have a role to play to reduce our carbon footprint.

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