Tackling poverty is often framed as an issue of social justice and altruism. If poverty is not eradicated, millions of people will continue to go hungry, die prematurely, live insecure and precarious lives, suffer from lack of education, and fail to achieve their full potential (Hulme, 2010). High levels of poverty may also be bad for development because countries starting out with a higher incidence of poverty tend to face worse growth prospects (Ravallion, 2009).
In 2015, extreme poverty was found to be concentrated among the most disadvantaged people: those in rural areas, those at risk of climate change, the young, the old, those from ethnic minorities and those with some form of disability (Greenhill et al., 2015). This builds on previous findings. For example, an ODI report based on two measures of poverty, child mortality and primary school non-completion, in 33 countries (1998 – 2007), suggests that poverty was overwhelmingly concentrated in households: (i) in rural areas; (ii) where the head of the household has ‘no education’ or ‘incomplete primary education’; (iii) where the head of the household is ‘not in work’ or is ‘working in agriculture’ (Sumner, 2013, p. v). A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute also found that the very poorest people tend to be from socially excluded groups, or live in remote areas with little education and few assets, or be landless.
The poorest are likely to have experienced severe ill health or the death of an adult family member or to have suffered from conflict or environmental shocks (von Braun et al., 2009). Disability is significantly associated with higher levels of economic and multidimensional poverty (Mitra et al., 2013; Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014). Research by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2009) shows that the chronically poor (people who remain poor for many years, if not their whole lives) include people who are discriminated against; socially marginalised; members of ethnic, religious, indigenous, nomadic and caste groups; migrants and bonded labourers; refugees and internally displaced persons; disabled people; those with ill health; and the young and old. Studies suggest that a substantial proportion of the chronically poor live in remote rural areas (Bird et al., 2002). In many places, poor women and girls are most likely to experience lifelong poverty. The chronically poor often die prematurely; have a very low income; and face multiple deprivations including, hunger, undernutrition, illiteracy, unsafe drinking water, lack of access to basic health services, social discrimination, physical insecurity and political exclusion (CPRC, 2009). Poverty can be transmitted across generations (Behrman et al., 2013).
Currently most of the poorest people live in fragile states, with increasing numbers in middle-income countries.
- Behrman, J. R., Schott, W., Mani, S., Crookston, B.T., Dearden, K., Duc, L.T., … & the Young Lives Determinants and Consequences of Child Growth Project Team. (2013). Intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequality: Young lives (Working Paper 117). Young Lives. University of Oxford.
- Bird, K., Hulme, D., Moore, K., & Shepherd, A. (2002). Chronic poverty and remote rural areas (CPRC Working Paper 13). Manchester: Chronic Poverty Research Centre.
- Chronic Poverty Research Centre. (2009). The chronic poverty report 2008-09: Escaping poverty traps. Manchester: Chronic Poverty Research Centre.
- Hulme, D. (2010). Global poverty: How global governance is failing the poor. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
- Mitra, S., Posarac, A., & Vick, B. (2013). Disability and poverty in developing countries: A multidimensional study. World Development, 41, 1-18.
- Morgon Banks, L. & Polack, S. (2014). The economic costs of exclusion and gains of inclusion of people with disabilities: Evidence from low and middle income countries. CBM, International Centre for Evidence in Disability, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
- Ravallion, M. (2009). Why don’t we see poverty convergence? (Policy Research Working Paper Series 4974). Washington, DC: World Bank.
- Sumner, A. (2013). Who are the poor? New regional estimates of the composition of education and health ‘poverty’ by spatial and social inequalities (Working Paper 378). London: ODI.
- Von Braun, J., Vargas Hill, R., & Pandya-Lorch, R. (Eds.). (2009). The poorest and hungry: assessments, analyses and action: An IFPRI 2020 book. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
- Greenhill, R., Carter, P., Hoy, C., & Manuel, M. (2015). Financing the future: How international public finance should fund a global social compact to eradicate poverty. London: ODI.