Global Poverty

Global Poverty

Throughout most of history, humans have lived in fairly squalid conditions. Food, fresh drinking water, education, a warm and dry bed to sleep in, and safety from harm were not taken for granted by most of our ancestors. However, many people today hardly think twice about these things, living in relative luxury. Very few people in high-income countries continue to be concerned about whether they will starve or freeze over the winter, or whether they will have clean water to drink. But how representative are the experiences of being humans in the early 21st century in countries like the UK for the entire global community? Do we really understand most people’s lived experiences around the world? How prevalent does poverty continue to be?

Approximately 1 in 10 humans on planet earth today live under “extreme poverty,” whereby their daily income (PPP adjusted) sits below $1.90 or £1.44, with substantial implications for their standard of living. However, it still seems incredibly hard to imagine a situation where 1 in 10 of our friends and family members lived under these conditions, or if we lived under these conditions ourselves.

While the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty has been steadily reducing for many decades, questions remain as to why so many people continue to suffer from these economic and social injustices.

In this first session, we will delve into what living in extreme poverty is like, how global poverty has been changing over time, what $2 represents to people at different levels of income, where we may lie on the global income distribution, and what kinds of problems people at different levels of income experience.

Core Reading (~90 mins):

What is Global Poverty?

Dollar Street (5 mins)

What are the historical trends in Global Poverty?

Extreme Poverty - Our World in Data (15 to 45 mins) - If you're short on time, read the overview, then scroll through this document to see the graphs

How unequal is the world?


Questions to think about when reading and reflecting upon this literature:

  • What does an extra $1, $5, or $100 mean to people at different income levels? What implications does that have if we're thinking about reducing the most poverty that we can through our donations?
  • What perspectives should we use to think about extreme poverty? E.g. economic, social, nutritional, cultural, multidimensional
  • Why do you think India and China saw such rapid decreases in poverty, while Sub-Saharan Africa saw increases in extreme poverty?
  • What surprised you most from these readings?
  • Can you imagine living in extreme poverty yourself? Is this something you can empathise with, or is it too far from your lived experience?
  • What were your previous conceptions of how the world has changed over the past 2 centuries? Is this different to what the readings were suggesting?
  • How does extreme poverty affect people, in terms of access to healthcare, education, stability, resilience to external shocks, etc.?

Next in the Global Health and Poverty curriculum