Blog action day: The limited view on poverty in Western societies

15.10.2008 | Christian Kreutz

A few days ago a tragic report came out stating that around a billion people in this world do not have enough to eat.  The food crisis will worsen because of the fast rising prices, not to mention the impact of the financial crisis. The difference between the levels of poverty are drastic among different countries and within each country itself. Unfortunately, the concept of poverty in Western societies is seen very limited. "This limited view on its own national borders, frees one from looking at the misery of the world", writes Ulrich Beck.

The limited materialistic view The limited view of poverty can be seen particularly in western Europe, where the media tends to focus its discussions in most cases solely around materialistic issues. Basically, anyone who earns less of half the average income is considered poor. The discussion often stops there, instead of taking factors such as environment, health and education into consideration. Lately, there was even a proposal going on in Germany about whether people could live with about 100 Euro a month. Do not get me wrong, I am aware of how important a welfare state is, but poverty cannot be tackled alone by monetary redistribution. Amartya Sen, an Indian economist and Nobel prizewinner, stresses that the importance of a more holistic view on poverty is necessary, which at the same time stresses the need of equality and freedom:

The poor generally lack a number of elements, such as education, access to land, health and longevity, justice, family and community support, credit and other productive resources, a voice in institutions, and access to opportunity. According to Sen, being poor does not mean living below an imaginary poverty line, such as an income of two dollars a day or less. It means having an income level that does not allow an individual to cover certain basic necessities, taking into account the circumstances and social requirements of the environment. Furthermore, many of the factors are interconnected. (GlobalPolicy)

Social equality – it is not north vs. south but all around the world Coming back to Ulrich Beck, he argues in his article that (1) social justice becomes a worldwide phenomena and (2) that we cannot address social injustice within a country alone. In the old days there was an imaginary border between the poor in the north and the south, but, nowadays, social equality is becoming universal as particularly western countries put it on their flags. And he adds: Many immigrants take the right for social equality and mobility for granted, but for most western countries this equality stops at their borders. These were some random thoughts for the blog action day on poverty.