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Most Australians Have No Idea Extreme Poverty Has Halved

23 September 2016 at 4:53 pm
Ellie Cooper
Over the past two decades the number of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved, but 89 per cent of Australians believe the problem has stayed the same or worsened.

Ellie Cooper | 23 September 2016 at 4:53 pm


Most Australians Have No Idea Extreme Poverty Has Halved
23 September 2016 at 4:53 pm

Over the past two decades the number of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved, but 89 per cent of Australians believe the problem has stayed the same or worsened.

The new global survey, Glocalities, from Dutch firm Motivaction, also found 87 per cent of people globally hold the same misconception.

Of the 26,000 people surveyed in 24 countries and 15 languages, only one person in every 100 correctly stated that global poverty has halved.

The results between countries also varied widely. In China, for example, 50 per cent of respondents correctly thought that poverty had decreased, compared to only 8 per cent in the United States.

Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank’s $1.25-a-day measure, has reduced from 1.9 billion to 840 million people.  

Oxfam, who released the report along with Global Citizen, said it was one of the biggest “unsung success stories” in recent human history.

But Oxfam chief executive Dr Helen Szoke said public pessimism and misunderstanding threatened the continuing fight against global poverty.

“We still have a long way to go and need public energy now more than ever,” Szoke said.

“The success could start to reverse if we don’t tackle with equal passion the rise of inequality, abuses driven by conflict, land grabs and climate change.

“Greater effort is needed by the Australian Government to harness this success and to build up, rather than continue to raid, the Australian aid program.”

She told Pro Bono Australia News that she wasn’t surprised by the results of the survey.

“Unfortunately I’m not surprised by how little people seem to understand about what happens in relation to international development,” she said.

“For example we know that many people in Australia think the proportion of government expenditure… on international development is around 10 or 12 per cent, when in fact it is only 1 per cent of the overall government expenditure.

“And there are lots of things that people don’t understand or don’t seem to know about international development and that tells us that we have to be vigilant in ensuring that we keep the community engaged in these issues.”

Economic growth, particularly in Africa and Asia, more open societies, stronger trade between developing countries, greater wealth distribution between countries and technological advances have contributed to the reduction in poverty.

But Szoke said it would be slower and more difficult to pull the “second billion” out of poverty.

“The job has got harder… we’re dealing with enormously challenging circumstances where people are entrenched and entrapped in poverty, and we’re doing that at a time when inequality is rising,” she said.

“The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, and that makes the job of actually dealing with the issues of very poor people even harder.

“And what this survey tells me is we need a much greater awareness, [first] in terms of the importance of pulling people out of poverty, secondly about the job that’s still to be done, and thirdly to understand that there is this real challenge around the rise of inequality and the abuses that many people suffer as a result of things like conflict, land grabs and climate change.

“We still have some wicked global problems that we have to address.”

The survey, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also found five out of 10 people believed their personal actions made little or no difference to help end global poverty.

Motivaction research director Martijn Lampert said more enhanced public engagement strategies were needed to help finish the fight.

“The fact that public belief is largely missing is a big barrier to future success,” Lampert said.

But Global Citizen spokesperson Michael Sheldrick said it was important to harness the support of people who believe their actions count.

“These findings bear out the fact that more of our supporters are coming from countries where great transformation or high economic growth are taking place,” Sheldrick said.

“The key is now providing those who believe their actions can make a difference with a way to get involved and to help, including by raising awareness amongst other parts of the public.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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