Poverty - from philosophy to the numbers

Poverty can be defined in a number of ways each using their own measures and thresholds. Whilst an analysis is only as good as the underlying data, issues that are measurable are far more likely to receive aid as progress can be tracked in a meaningful way.

We recently came across an article written by Wimal Nanayakkara from Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) and we wanted to extend that discussion with reference to the original article which can be found here (IPS Research Team - Talking Economics).

As part of our work we come across families that are very much below the poverty line. It is the circumstances that lead to the continuation of the poverty cycle that drew our attention. Poverty appears to perpetuate where the environment is not conducive to bearing both day-to-day living expenses as well as saving enough resources to invest in to break the cycle - resources not being confined to purely monetary means but also to things such as time and energy.

Poverty line - Sri Lankan mother with kids

As the article discusses, income is only one dimension of poverty that contributes to the final outcome. This is where the concept of Multi Dimensional Poverty (MDP) comes in where aspects such as education and living standards are included. Refer to the original article for a more in depth analysis of the theory. Further to this, the article discusses Near Multidimensional Poverty (NMDP) where it looks at those on the border of poverty. Focusing solely on the poverty line is sort of like trying to save a leaky ship using a bucket - it’s temporary and does little to address those that will soon fall below the line.

What was clearly noticeable but not entirely surprising is that the main cohort falling into MDP and NMDP are those that are either retired or disabled meaning they do not have the means to work for a living. Staggeringly over 37% of those who are retired, old or have disabilities are in MDP or NMDP and this is compounded by the fact that they are the least able to change their way of life and adapt to changes in their domestic environment. We constantly ask ourselves - is it not our duty to take care of vulnerable that are not able to care for themselves through little or no fault of their own?

Old lady in Sri Lanka in extreme poverty

In a world where investments are priced using inflation and salaries are negotiated with the cost of living, how is it that unlike elsewhere in the world, superannuation/government pensions in Sri Lanka are not indexed to inflation? In a developing country with high inflation this only serves to push those bordering NMDP and MDP firmly into or deeper within the poverty threshold. Whilst we cannot control policies and budgets, what we can do is highlight the issue and discuss ways in which we may be able to offer a better quality of life for those in poverty in a practical, efficient and transparent manner.

As our societies move further into the 21st Century, we create more wealth as measured by metrics such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It often occurs to us that the link between material things and happiness is more pronounced today that it was a decade ago and in a consumption driven world, the link will likely continue to be reinforced at multiple levels. The concept of working hard to accumulate those resources may then become mutually exclusive with feeling satisfied when exchanging that in return for something like an intangible smile of gratitude.

Children in poverty - Sri Lanka

Providing funding for the education of children reaps tangible and real returns in the medium term as those educated will gain employment and become a contributing member of society through their taxes and spending. However, funding the retired and disabled reaps no tangible return and is often less glamorous than funding schools for the next generation. It’s worth stressing that we are not intending to dehumanise or equate people lives and happiness to money but just we feel it’s a point worth discussing in an open and transparent manner. We ourselves are sometimes conflicted with how we should go about our work with limited funding we receive from our supporters and this creates a constant battle both in our minds and in our hearts. Is one more worthy than the other purely by age and ability to contribute back to the community? How should we go about allocating funds to projects with the elderly and disabled as well those involving education and children?

We at Kind Hearted Lankans recognise that there will always be this conflict so long as we do not have unlimited funding which sadly is likely to be the case during our lifetimes. We however are making the elderly, disabled and children a main theme for 2019 which entails education as a major part. Thank you so much for reading and as always we welcome comments so please do get in touch.