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Jun 20, 2019
What is Poverty? The Definitions of Poverty, Jun 20, 2019
What is poverty?
When we think about poverty, we usually think about economics. In
reality, poverty has a face. It's a girl forced to marry because her
family can’t support her. A mum who can’t buy medicine to save her
baby’s life. A boy sent to work on the rubbish heap, rather than the
What's the official definition of poverty?
The World Bank's poverty definition says, "A person is considered poor if his or her income level fall below some minimum level necessary to meet basic needs.” It sets this minimum level, or international poverty line, as living on less than $1.90 a day.
Just under 385 million children live in extreme poverty worldwide.
About 15,000 children die each day before celebrating their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes.
Every 20 seconds a mother loses a child from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine.
On average, children born into the poorest 20 percent of households
are almost twice as likely to die before age 5 as those born into the
richest 20 percent.
Each year, about 100 million are forced into poverty as a result of health-related expenses.
About 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger.
Children are more than twice as likely to live in extreme poverty than
adults. In developing countries, an estimated 19.5 percent of children
live on less than $1.90 a day, compared to 9.2 percent of adults.
At current trends, nine out of 10 of the world’s children living in extreme poverty will live in sub-Saharan Africa in 2030.
What’s the difference between absolute poverty and relative poverty?
Relative poverty considers your location and what it means to be
poor in a particular society. It measures if your income falls below the
minimum amount needed for you to maintain the average standard of
living in the society you live in.
On the other hand, the World Bank defines poverty in absolute
terms. Rather than measuring poverty against the rest of the population,
poverty is measured against a fixed standard of living. In October 2015
the World Bank set a new global poverty line at $1.90 a day.
While both definitions are valuable, they view poverty through a
single lens of income and consumption. In reality, poverty is far more
complex and involves other social, cultural and political aspects.
Do age and gender impact poverty?
For certain members of society, mainly women and children, they may
already lack political, social or economic rights meaning poverty places
a double burden on them, making them even more vulnerable. Globally, 1
in 5 girls are married before age 18, ending their chances of an
What does poverty mean for children?
We're right with you in thinking it's a huge injustice that more
than half of the estimated 766 million people who live in extreme
poverty are children.
Children are left most vulnerable to the effects of poverty: from
the moment their life begins, a child’s future is shaped by their
Poverty can rob children of their basic rights. There's significant
evidence to show that poverty can have devastating short and long-term
effects on a child’s ability to learn, build relationships and make a
positive transition to adult life.
According to UNICEF, “The consequences of inadequate nutrition,
lack of early stimulation and learning, and exposure to stress last a
lifetime. ” If they have families of their own, there is a high
probability that poverty will be passed down to future generations.
Has progress been made in the fight against poverty?
There have been great successes in the fight against poverty in the past 20 years:
Extreme poverty has declined by more than half, from 1.9 billion people in 1990 to 836 million in 2015.
The global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history.
Many more girls are now in school compared to 15 years ago. The
developing regions as a whole achieved the Millennium Development Goal
target to eliminate gender disparity in primary, secondary and tertiary
But there's still a long way to go:
Globally, almost 385 million children are still living in extreme poverty.
Despite the tremendous progress, poverty rates remain stubbornly
high in low-income countries and those affected by conflict and
In the 25 years from 1990 to 2015, the extreme poverty rate dropped
an average of a percentage point per year – from nearly 36% to 10%. But
the rate dropped only one percentage point in the two years from 2013
Could you survive living in extreme poverty? Lance’s story
Could you imagine feeding your family of seven on £4.50 a day? What
would you do on the days there was no money for food? For Lance and his
family, this is their daily reality of living below the poverty line.
Lance’s father, a fisherman, paddles to sea in a tiny canoe very
early every morning to fish for 10 hours, but he must fish close to the
shore since his boat is not motorised. “It’s too risky for him to go
further out,” Lance’s mum, Joan, says. “He doesn’t catch many big fish
but I do my best to sell them in the afternoon so we have money to buy
food and send our older children to school.”
The most money Lance’s hard-working parents can make is 300
Philippine Pesos per day (£4.50), but sometimes they earn nothing. “On
such days, we just eat the fish before it goes rotten as we don’t have
electricity or a cooler to store it,” says Joan.
When families are caught in crippling poverty like this, growing
children miss out on important nutrients, leading to malnutrition and
For years, Lance was too weak to lift himself up and walk. Lance
was eight years old at the time, but he was the size of a four-year-old.
This changed for Lance when he was registered at a Compassion project and found a child sponsor. The project staff helped Lance to get immediate medical attention where he was diagnosed with acute malnutrition.
After a consultation with specialists, Lance was given a meal and
vitamin schedule and the project staff went to extraordinary lengths to
ensure the young boy remained on his meal schedule.
Collins and his grandmother, Nachi, live in the Solai District in
northwest Kenya. Together, they’ve endured unimaginable grief and
hardship because of poverty. Despite being in her sixties Nachi still
does intense manual labour to provide for Collins. But back pain,
swollen hands and feet don’t support her long enough to earn a decent
“We face a lot of hardship because we don’t always have enough to eat. But then I remembered Compassion projects help children.”
“Before I took Collins to the project, all I felt was despair. I was
sure we would both die of starvation. But Because of Compassion I can
see he will have a brighter future. If I was to meet his sponsor one
day, I wouldn’t have the words to express [how I feel]. But if she
looked into my heart, the sponsor would see only joy,” says Nachi.
Can poverty be stopped?
The great news is extreme poverty has declined by more than half,
from 1.9 billion people in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. That’s almost
half in 25 years meaning eradicating extreme poverty is within our
reach. When we take the attitude that poverty will always exist we’re
less likely to take action.
But by taking a stand against poverty together we can make a difference.
Compassion's response to global poverty
Poverty can often feel overwhelming. When we hear that nearly 400
million children still live in extreme poverty we can wonder what
difference we can really make.
That's why we're offering you the chance to sponsor a child
- a highly strategic way of ending poverty, one child at a time. You
can meets the real-life needs of a child living in poverty by tackling
the root causes of poverty that hold them back.
Compassion connects one child born into the vulnerability of poverty
with one sponsor, like you. You can give a child the opportunities they
deserve by sending them to school, providing them with nutritious meals
and protecting their health with regular medical check-ups.