Though poverty deals with the lack of possessions or the inability to do the things that are considered “normal”, the word “normal” depends on the society in which the person lives. The usual accepted indicator of third world poverty is the number of people living on an income of less than $1 per day, and is termed “absolute income poverty”. As this indicator would be inappropriate for use in the UK and the developed world the most widely accepted threshold to show poverty in these regions is 60 per cent of average income after housing costs.
This is called “relative income poverty” and is accepted by most researchers, the EU and the UK government. The World Health Organisation has called poverty the worlds biggest killer, and has shown that being poor increases the risk of ill health and also contributes to disease and death through its effects. Poor people, for example, are more likely to live in an unhealthy environment and many of the worlds poorest are unable to secure even the bare necessities for a healthy life, such as food, water, shelter and health care.
Globally one of the major causes of ill health is malnutrition, which is an issue of poverty rather than an indicator of food shortages. As a result of malnutrition people are more susceptible to infectious and chronic diseases, and statistics show that malnutrition contributes up to one half of deaths among children in developing countries. In addition, more than 1 billion people in developing countries live without adequate shelter, more than 2. 9 billion have no access to minimum standards of sanitation and 1. 3 billion lack access to safe water and as a result 80 per cent of illnesses are caused by contaminated drinking water.
People who live in poverty often find it difficult to try to better themselves and often think only of survival for themselves and their families. For example, many people in developing countries live in a rural area as a tenant with an absentee landlord. If they improve the land and begin to make a profit they risk being evicted as the landlord may want to use the improved land for himself. For this reason they often reject modern methods of farming only to be stereotyped as lazy or unintelligent. Children across the world are often socialised into this culture of poverty and the issue is complicated.
The level of developmental risks that children face varies enormously and is influenced by the depth and duration of family poverty. Even among the long term poor risks to development vary according to physical and mental health of parents, the availability of social support from outside the family, where they live and even the basic resilience of the children. Poverty is a cycle which is hard to break, with children raised in poverty often becoming poor themselves because their families are unable to invest what is needed to overcome their problems.
This is not only to do with finances but also the fact that the parents may not have knowledge of the help they are entitled to. This occurs because the poorest communities often have the poorest health and education services, and this is highlighted by the fact that across the world there are currently 125 million children who have never seen the inside of a classroom. With education levels being lower in areas of high poverty, people living in these areas are not qualified for the high paying jobs.
High skilled jobs are beyond the reach of some people, and those securing these high paid jobs are finding their way out of these areas. Children being raised in poverty may be socialised into living off the welfare state and often live in areas of high unemployment. For this reason they see little point in getting a good formal education. Part of this problem appears to be the amount of parents bringing up children alone. Around 61 per cent of children who spent the first ten years of their life in a single parent family lived below the poverty line for most of that time, and only 7 per cent avoided poverty altogether.
In the UK figures show that the number of people in households with an income of below 60 per cent of average income fell from 14 million in 1997 to 13 million in 2001 (the same as for the year 1995), and the number of children in low income households fell by 500,000 over the same period. It is believed that the main reason for this fall was that more people were in paid work in 2001, but employment does not guarantee an escape from poverty. Apart from pensioners, almost half of all adults and children below the low income threshold were living in households where at least on adult is employed.