Deciding Who Gets to Eat: The winners and losers of the international poverty crisis

As the coronavirus cases continue to soar, global poverty is set to rise for the first time since 1998, which offers a bleak insight into the catastrophic aftermath of the pandemic. However, in an emerging social climate of distance and distrust, who should bear the financial burden of this crisis?

The pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to the reversing of fortunes of millions of people worldwide, with 115 million people set to plunge below the poverty line. Fundamentally, estimating and comparing poverty on a global scale is tricky, as the definition of poverty and the concept of the poverty line are often blurred. However, what is clear is that an increasing number of people who weren’t struggling before the pandemic are now facing financial uncertainty, without stable schemes in place to support them. Many third-world countries, which already suffer from economic insecurity, are anticipating mass job losses of low-income workers and an overall stall of crucial trade. Alongside this, from a health perspective, the implications of the virus could have a disastrous impact on people’s livelihoods and the ability to support themselves without government support. 

Most harrowing, are the actions of countries such as the UK, who are more equipped to support their citizens during the crisis, yet are openly rejecting policies to provide for them. Last week, 322 British MPs voted against extending free school meals for children over the school holidays, despite the fact over 4 million children live below the poverty line in the UK. When the conservative government secured a resounding majority in December, it seemingly secured the fates of millions of people throughout the country. If people cannot rely on the provisions and protection of their government, alongside the general apathy of the public who voted for them, how can systemic issues such as poverty even begin to be resolved? 

When governments decide to neglect pressing issues, such as poverty, does the moral obligation fall on billionaires and well-known figures to raise awareness and financially support ordinary people?

The pandemic has seen the fortunes of billionaires raised by 27%, with tech, healthcare and industrialist companies seeing a covid-induced demand for resources. The wealth of billionaires have benefitted from these extraordinary circumstances, in the same way that millions are now suffering due to these events out of their control. In the UK, nine billionaires collectively donated just $298m, falling short in comparison to other leading countries. For a select, extremely fortunate group of people to capitalize from the global suffering of the majority is the frankly dystopian, but unfortunate reality. The issue revolves around the fact that poverty is often a cycle and wealth is often inherited. This creates an economic disparity, whereby the two extremes rarely overlap, and discourse between the two is fragmented. For two such polarising economic situations to co-exist, should be a cause of general unease. However, there is the valid question, how do you measure generosity, and how do you assess a situation worthy of external contribution? For some people, it is a billionaire’s vocation to donate the majority of their wealth to help others. However, some believe that the wealthy are entitled to use the money which they earned, however they choose. This argument is subjective, therefore no matter how much a person contributes, they could always do more. Similarly, suffering is a part of human existence, and no amount of money will be able to alleviate that innate fact. 

Billionaires: Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Elon Musk. Image: Business Insider

Nevertheless, the background of the pandemic is different, because there is collective suffering and unity in response to the virus. With a generational experience such as this one, with the real aftermath still yet to emerge, there should be a unified response, to which the elite and wealthy are not morally exempt.  It shouldn’t take the actions of billionaires and celebrities to motivate governments to act accordingly; however, the silence and inaction of so many billionaires is deafening. In an ideal world, people shouldn’t have to contribute their earnings to ensure that people can survive, but it is the world that we live in. The uneven distribution of wealth is so broad that it makes it impossible for people to break the poverty cycle on their own, without the help of others to provide them with the opportunities that we were all born to deserve. There is a fine line between performative action and genuine and informed support, but showing solidarity in times of crisis, offers some overdue humanity from the elusive financial figureheads. 

The World Bank report estimates that due to the pandemic, progress towards eliminating global poverty has been set back at least three years. Yet, with collective support from the world’s billionaires, this fate could be reversed and would save millions of lives. A world where everyone is entitled to shelter, food and education shouldn’t be seen as idealistic, but instead the end goal. Although we are now living in a world which encourages isolation, it is no longer about politics or economy, but humanity. 

Featured Image from Business Insider