Welcome to the first part of our Brave New World series, where we explore the impacts of Covid-19 on each of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. SDG1 looks at poverty and how we can work together to eradicate it.
In many walks of life, wealth, or lack thereof, is a form of discrimination. People subconsciously mock or take pity on the poor, rather than using their energy and resources to create more opportunity. Covid-19, however, chose not to discriminate on how much money you have in your pocket, rather, it is transmittable by anyone, to anyone, and is particularly life-threatening to the elderly.
When it came to international lockdowns, poverty did play a big part. Those with large, comfortable homes and plenty of money in the bank will have been much better off than those living in crowded slums with no job security or means of isolating from others. In some countries, the homeless were given temporary accommodation, in others, they were not. In countries such as India and Brazil, highly populated favelas and shantytowns became local epicentres of the coronavirus, causing a high concentration of suffering in a small area. South Africa has reported that the increase in poverty has had secondary personal health effects, such as mental health downturns and suicide issues.
For the rich, this was a government-enforced break from life, for the poor, this was a complete disaster that caused suffering, anxiety, and daily uncertainty
The World Bank predicts that Covid-19 has pushed around 71 million people into extreme poverty, with that figure rising every day (a bleak estimate is 100m). Even they suggest that this figure could be way off, as they explained in this statement:
“Nowcasting global poverty is not an easy task. It requires assumptions about how to forecast growth and how such growth will impact the poor, along with other complications such as how to calculate poverty for countries with outdated data or without data altogether. All of this goes to say that estimating how much global poverty will increase because of COVID-19 is challenging and comes with a lot of uncertainty.”
One thing that they can say quite confidently is that due to Covid-19, 2020 will be the first year in 22 years that global poverty has actually increased (read more). All estimates suggest that India and the rest of South Asia will be hit the hardest.
These figures relate to a drastic fall in earnings, to as little as £2-4 per day, which is below even the typical poverty-level income in the world’s poorest countries. On a global scale, 90% of the world’s 183 countries are expected to see a fall in GDP this year. Not since 1873 have so many countries entered a recession at the same time, though that was caused by a variety of factors including war and politics, rather than a public health crisis. To put things into a more modern context, the recession we are facing is expecting to be twice as severe as that which occurred in 2008.
For the developing world, things look dire. For the first world, furloughs, support loans, grants, stipends and more all make the situation quite bearable and many people look set to break even or profit from the lockdown.
Covid-19 impact on UK households
For our readers, who are primarily based in the UK, let’s talk a little bit about how Covid-19 has affected UK households. This data and information come from PSE – Poverty and Social Exclusion, who has been defining, measuring, and tackling poverty in the UK, and the Standard Life Foundation’s Covid-19 financial impact tracker.
At the start of the lockdown, they announced that 50% of UK households felt that they would struggle financially during the lockdown. By the start of the fourth week of lockdown, 7 million households (almost a quarter of all UK households) had lost a substantial part or all of their income.
See the key findings from PSE below:
Of those in serious financial difficulty, 64% are renting
31% are homeowners
Covid-19 has undone a lot of great work, but it’s not futile
Sadly, the bitter truth pill that we have to swallow is that the coronavirus has undone so much of the wonderful work that governments, NGOs, individuals, and volunteers of all kinds have been doing to tackle and alleviate poverty around the world. Despite this major setback, we cannot give up this good fight.
This quote from a very emotional Economist piece really stood out to me:
‘In normal times, people in poor countries have many ways to cope with shocks. If one member of a family falls sick, the others can work longer hours to make up for the lost income. Or they can ask cousins or neighbours for help. Or, if a whole village is impoverished by a bad harvest, they can ask a nephew working in a big city or a foreign country to send some extra cash. All these “coping mechanisms”, as development experts call them, depend on calamity not striking everywhere at once. Alas, covid-19 has done just that.’
What this shows is that this is just temporary and that people experiencing poverty are resilient and keen to work together in their communities to help each other fully through this. In the first world, we can provide aid, support, and opportunity where possible.
To make yourself well-versed on this topic, perhaps the best piece of literature that we discovered was Improvement Service’s ‘Poverty, Inequality, and COVID-19’ document, which you can view for free here. By zooming in on more than 20 different aspects of poverty, rather than viewing it as a whole, they’ve managed to really dig deep into the issue and help readers to see a way forward.
Where do we go from here?
Before Covid-19 it was estimated that 640 million people were in extreme poverty, and by the end of this pandemic, the figure could be well over three-quarters of a billion people. Moving forward, wealth distribution, international aid, sustainable development, and digital opportunities for those in the third world must increase, otherwise, poverty will continue to escalate.
There is one more factor that will create a more sustainable future, and that is self-sufficiency, at both an individual and local level. I ask you, ‘what can you do locally to reduce the impacts of global shocks?’. I’d like to encourage people to think about renewable energy generation, especially wind and solar, as well as local food growing projects like roof gardens, hydroponics, and allotment expansions. Teach a man to fish, right?
Becoming a self-sufficient person or community does not happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen with education, so I’d like to see the government invest in the learning and application tools for their people. I want to see people learn about communal farming, collaborative consumption, and making jobs from waste, as well as seeing greater levels of female entrepreneurship.
Let’s finish off with the video below. I support this organisation in South Africa that helps women to develop professional skills. During Covid-19, they’ve had no income and were borderline starving. After crowdfunding for essential supplies, they sent this impactful video.