How many people living in poverty are there?

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Some figures from the United Nations Development Programme:

  • More than a billion people live with less than a dollar per day.
  • 2.8 billion people, that is to say almost half of the global population, live with less than 2 dollars per day.
  • 448 million children are underweight.
  • 876 million adults are illiterate, two thirds of which are women.
  • Every day, 30,000 children under 5 die from avoidable diseases.
  • More than a billion people don’t have access to healthy water.
  • 20% of the global population have 90% of the wealth.

ATD Fourth World produces qualitative studies on extreme poverty through its Research Institute, but it is not a statistics-producing organisation. Since the 60’s, ATD Fourth World has asked the authorities, in each country it is present, in Europe then worldwide, to give themselves the means to meticulously measure how many people are victims of extreme poverty and the effects of policies designed to overcome destitution.

Gradually, studies have been carried out. Mostly these are statistics on the income of people and households, but also on access to work, accommodation, healthcare, an education system and adult training. These statistics can be found on the websites of global organisations such as the World Bank, UNDP; or Eurostat, the European statistical organisation and on national statistical sites.

However, most of the time, there is no simultaneous review of data to allow measurement of how many people or households have difficulties (no money, no accommodation, no work, no access to healthcare, no quality education etc.) and for how long. And yet the poorest people and families are known to be in gradually worsening situations.

ATD Fourth World asks statistic-producing organisations to work with representatives of people living in exteme poverty to define together all participative indicators of the fight against poverty and exclusion.

What are the definitions of poverty?

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There are many definitions of poverty , which depend on the point of view of those who produce them. Over the centuries, these things have been viewed from various perspectives: religious: the poor, as an incarnation of God; moral: the poor as responsible and guilty for their situation; politics: the poor as victims of an exploitive system; etc.

ATD Fourth World aims to understand and make the points of view of people and populations in extreme poverty about the realities they live with known. Not only the description of these situations, but how these people feel and what explanations they give to themselves.

From this research linked to the poor, came the definition that Joseph Wresinski proposed to France’s Economic and social Council, which was then used by Mr Leandro Despouy in his UN report on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights:

“The lack of basic security connotes the absence of one or more factors enabling individuals and families to assume basic responsibilities and to enjoy fundamental rights. The situation may become widespread and result in more serious and permanent consequences. The lack of basic security leads to chronic poverty when it simultaneously affects several aspects of people’s lives, when it is prolonged and when it severely compromises people’s chances of regaining their rights and of reassuming their responsibilities in the foreseeable future.” (10 and 11 February 1987)

Is poverty increasing or diminishing?

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It is very difficult to answer this question, because the answer depends on the definition of poverty that is adopted and the quantitative indicators that are used. Some measures can have the result of supporting people and populations living in precariousness and leaving aside those in extreme poverty, making their life even more difficult.

An example for clarification: A country’s “GDP per capita” indicator is used to compare poverty in one country to that in another and also measures poverty from one year to the next in the same country. It is used extensively. It is calculated by dividing a country’s GDP indicator by number of inhabitants. If the wealth of the country’s 10% richest inhabitants increases, the GDP rises, and therefore the indicator will go up, whilst nothing is to say that the situation of the country’s poorest people is improving.

In 2000, the UN launched the Millennium Goals, of which the most well-known is that to reduce by half the number of people living with less than 1 $ per day (in 2009 1.25$). This goal is unfair, because it does not say what aims there are for the other half who remains below this threshold and whose situation may get worse at the same time. For example, it is the poorest people and populations who pay the highest price in food, financial and economic crises.

This is why ATD Fourth World asks that this is not only based on numbers, but also that the views of people living in poverty are taken into account to answer this question seriously. They also ask that if some people’s situation improves in a particular domain, we endeavour to understand why the situation hasn’t improved for others. Because it is likely that policies can be improved so that no-one is left aside.