The future of poverty policy Five years of momentum must not go to waste Guest Author SHARON BESSELL

New ways of measuring and tackling poverty are making crucial progress, but the scale of the problem is large, and many challenges and negative trends remain. Addressing these will be crucial to ending poverty, Sharon Bessell writes.

In 2015, world leaders agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. This marked a significant shift in global policy, refocusing poverty alleviation strategies from income alone to a far broader set of issues.

So how far have things come in the past five years as policymakers, service deliverers, and activists grapple with the challenge of ending poverty in all its forms everywhere? Three trends are worth considering as the new decade dawns.

First, in terms of global priorities, Goal 1 signals a welcome shift. There is no doubt that increasing incomes among the poor is critically important, and must remain a priority – both globally and within countries.

Equally, it is important to recognise that low income is not the only characteristic of poverty. The structural barriers that prevent individuals and social groups from moving out of poverty reflect deep-seated inequality and discrimination that are unlikely to be dismantled by a marginal increase in incomes.

Similarly, poor quality of health care, education, and other essential services available to many are the product of insufficient and unequal public spending and investment. Individuals need very large increases in their income to be able to buy higher quality services – and such purchases may never be possible for those who are excluded due to discrimination and stigma.

More on this:Mapping deprivation across lives
As the global definition of poverty has broadened to include dimensions beyond income, an important development, policymakers have improved their ability to measure multidimensional poverty.

The Individual Deprivation Measure is a powerful example of how poverty measurement is being rethought.

It allows decision-makers to include in their understanding of poverty access to and quality of essential services, its non-material dimensions, like voice and social relationships, and intersectional analysis that reveals which social groups are being left behind.

Central to new approaches is a recognition that poverty cannot continue to be measured at the level of the household. An important step forward came in 2016 when the World Bank initiated the Global Commission on Poverty, which stated that decomposition of household-level data is simply insufficient – poverty must be measured on an individual basis.

Debates about how to measure poverty are not simply a theoretical exercise with little practical relevance, they matter deeply and determine a response. When the multidimensional nature of poverty is in the picture, policymakers are better able to identify and respond to structural barriers, deeply entrenched discrimination, and services that continually fail the poor.

When poverty is measured at the individual level, policy can move beyond the already discredited idea that resources are shared equally within a household. Decision-makers can better identify which social groups are most disadvantaged and why. Governments and service providers are able to respond on the basis of evidence.

The second trend occurring globally is a steady decline in extreme poverty – measured as those living on less than $1.25 prior to 2015, now revised upwards to those living on less than $1.90.

In 1990, 36 per cent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. By 2010, that figure decreased to 16 per cent, and by 2015 was at 10 per cent. At the end of 2018, the World Bank observed that extreme poverty was at its lowest level ever.

More on this:Poverty, homelessness, and welfare
This is a remarkable achievement. However, two issues must be kept in mind. First, the international cut-off for extreme poverty is very low. If it were increased to just $3.20, one-quarter of the world’s population would be living in poverty. A little further – to $5.50 – and 46 per cent of the world’s population would be defined as poor.

While great progress has been made, we cannot afford to be sanguine – the misery of poverty still affects half of all people around the globe.

In many countries, those who remain in poverty are those who are hardest to reach. For example, in Indonesia, poverty based on the national poverty line dropped below 10 per cent in 2019.

While the significance of this milestone should not be underestimated, in terms of numbers, 26 million people remain below the very low national poverty line.

For Indonesia, the greatest challenge remains. The most severely marginalised people – those hardest to identify and hardest to reach – are yet to move out of poverty. This is reflected across the region and the world.

The third global trend provides a less optimistic story – and one likely to undermine the achievements of recent years. It is a story in two parts.

First, the record of some of the wealthiest countries in addressing poverty in all its forms over the past five years is dismal.

In Australia for example, one in six children live in income poverty. In the United Kingdom, where government spending on children has fallen dramatically in recent years, child poverty is at 30 per cent. The apparent preparedness of wealthy countries to abandon efforts to end poverty is alarming.

It is even more so considering the apathy of these countries towards the global shift to assessing multidimensional poverty, rather than income alone, a change that has generally resulted in poverty measurements moving up to reflect reality. If the multidimensional nature of poverty in these countries was measured and included the stigma and shame that is created by unjust policies, these figures would be far worse.

The second part of this story is the failure of leaders to seriously address the climate emergency. Without action, new groups will be plunged into poverty and achievements in reducing global poverty could go into reverse.

Over the past five years, there have been positive trends in addressing poverty around the world. The adoption of ending poverty as a global goal, the shift towards multidimensionality in both assessments of and responses to poverty, the recognition that poverty must be assessed at the individual level, and the continuing downward trend in extreme income poverty globally are all great achievements.

However, they are countered by deeply disturbing trends, especially in wealthy countries, and the link between the climate emergency and poverty. These challenges must be addressed, or the last five years of progress may go to waste. If they are not addressed, it will amount to simply abandoning the most vulnerable to their fates, and settling for a world that is divided and deeply unjust.

Sharon Bessell
Dr Sharon Bessell is the Director of the Children’s Policy Centre in Crawford School of Public Policy, and the ANU lead on the Individual Deprivation Measure Project.

What’s Next? severe disabled wish. guest Author: petergibilisco Researcher, author and advocate. Bachelor of Business Accounting, PhD from Melbourne University. Dealing with issues involving disability.

I wrote and published this article on OnlineOpinion over 11 years ago. It is troubling to me that nothing much has changed over all that time.

I am still trying, even though I’ve got 1/4 of the abilities I had back then in 2008. That means now, I am constantly pushing the boundaries of my remaining
abilities to speak against injustices. I want to achieve so much in a personal, social and academic sense and all I ask is to be given the opportunity
to do so.

It is probable that everyone will get an itch somewhere, sooner or later. And so, when you get an itch, you do what comes naturally: you scratch it! It
is a simple process that itches are made to feel better when scratched. Or so it seems.

But what if you can’t scratch? I mean, what if you can’t scratch where it itches because you have nothing to scratch it with? It may be an itch that is
underneath your plaster cast that is in place to help with the healing of your broken knee-cap. What if the itch can’t be localised? What then? It is not
such a simple problem.

I happen to know a lot about the problem of scratching itches from a rather unique perspective How? Because I have a neuro-transmitter dysfunction that
simply won’t allow me to reach wherever it itches. So I have learned to cope, to block out the irritation. I have to admit that it is, indeed, a luxury
when I am fortunate enough to have a very empathetic support worker who can help me by scratching my back or my ear, but I won’t bore you with all the
details of my relief because I have only raised this with another purpose in mind, a purpose I might add which might help our society understand the itches
people like myself have to deal with.

I would like to draw attention to what disablement can mean to someone like me who suffers from Friedreich’s Ataxia. I’ve been attacked by this progressive
disease, since I was first diagnosed in 1976 when I was 14. Now I am confined to a wheelchair and need daily assistance with routine transfers, hygiene
and most of my daily activities. Living with a degenerative disease has broadened my thoughts concerning disablement and allowed me to focus on the need
for empathetic behaviour from those directly related to disability.

In 1981 I was 19. That was the year of the first United Nations International Year for Disabled People. You’d have to say that my life, with the progression
of Friedreich’s Ataxia, since then has tracked the development of public policy that has, in significant ways, taken seriously the problems that disabled
people have to continually and progressively confront.

In this sense mainstream society has begun to acknowledge disablement as a serious itch that needs to be carefully scratched with appropriate care, tools
and resources that are outlined in just policies.

And so there are policies, legislation, a wider social commitment, education and programs now in place that show, in this country, that we have a significant
society-wide compassion to assist those in great need. But, yet the itch is still not appropriately scratched!

Yes, we need ramps and railings that lead into public buildings. But, there needs to be something more. Let me tell you that I have received much, for
which I am very grateful. And have come such a long way with so many people to thank. I often wonder, how can someone like me have got this far? And with
a disease that has made a greater impact over my body as time passes.

I am now 45 and my care needs increase almost by the day. Yet despite this I have just completed a study tour in Hawaii visiting the University of Hawaii,
Center for Disability Studies. My social enquiry in the US focused on how many people with severe disabilities yearn for, and are capable of performing,
most human activities – with assistance from a support worker.

I was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia at 14 and then my mother died of cancer when I was 18. I was well and truly on a downward emotional and physiological
spiral. By 23, I was confined permanently to a wheelchair. But it was also around this time, with the encouragement and perceptive advice from a close
lady friend which lifted me out of a fantasy land of self-pity, that I began studying for an Associate Diploma in Accountancy at Dandenong TAFE. That inclusive
and happy learning environment gave me inspiration to tackle life with vigour and it still serves as a reminder to me when, like anyone else, I develop
the usual emotional itches which need scratching. That was my 1984.

But that year, 1984, reminds us of something else doesn’t it? Since then, my life has been not unlike the problematic world that George Orwell describes.
It is especially relevant to people like myself who are really very grateful for all the special consideration, no matter how insignificant, equal opportunities
and affirmative action we have received over the years.

But why is it problematic? It is problematic in an Orwellian sense because we know that if we raise a voice in criticism, even if we are trying to be constructive,
we put ourselves in an exposed situation. After having traveled so far, with so much kind assistance, it can too easily sound like we can never be satisfied
and can never get enough freebies.

It’s as if after graduating with my PhD, and then in 2007 when I was presented with the Emerging Disability Leader of the Year award, I developed a new
itch, but just didn’t know where so it could be scratched. My PhD thesis, my academic journal articles and my On Line Opinion pieces were all being applauded
but, somehow, the major issue I was trying to discuss was being ignored.

I think public policy towards people with disabilities, and in particular severely disabled or progressively disabled, has ignored some important factors
to the detriment of our society.

First, I will sound like a broken record by offering my analysis over and over again; and second, our society cannot be, or become, the compassionate solidarity
it claims for itself if it doesn’t hear what I am trying to say. I have a sense of obligation here to speak out. It’s not just for me, although I am painfully
aware of its application to myself and to my own situation.

The point is this: for some of us the special consideration, equal opportunity and affirmative action, designed to get disabled people into the mainstream,
paradoxically brings us to a more exposed and needy situation. This cannot be addressed without more special consideration, further and ongoing application
of equal opportunities after training is completed and further affirmative action once we have obtained our qualifications. It is a simple point that can
be readily illustrated.

This illustration of policy dynamism is based on the approach I have identified as pragmatic social democracy, advocated by Hugh Stretton and Marta Russell,
in my Doctoral Dissertation.

Once a person with a severe disability at TAFE, for example, receives a diploma then society’s responsibility to that person is not somehow fulfilled,
because at that point the obligations have actually increased. The person may need special support to attend interviews, and when that person is offered
and accepts a position of employment it may be necessary for technical and other assistance.

I could repeat this point for each of the steps I have made through my own higher education: TAFE Diploma, Bachelor of Business, Bachelor of Arts, Master
of Arts, and Doctorate of Philosophy. There are other facets to keep in mind as well. Somehow we need to find a way to view and support people with a disability
in pro-active methods of equal opportunity; rather than focusing on the medical model’s view of a sympathetic approach: people with severe disabilities
need an empathetic approach, aligned to the social model. My assertion is that society’s responsibility increases in specific ways oriented to professional
commitment and involvement, once the student with a severe disability graduates.

But, as my own needs, and possibly those of others, have increased or are increasing, support is not only to be seen in educational terms. The dynamic
of increasing support reflected in policy should also seek to meet the increased needs which the policy at an earlier point has also helped to bring about.
There are also increased needs of those who support, as well as, the increasing needs of the person with a disability.

For a TAFE graduate like myself, I was faced with a daunting prospect. I had a wonderful Technical and Further Education experience, which affirmed me
as a mature-age student, and I was no different in some ways from any other TAFE graduate: “What next?” we asked. Leaving TAFE for all of us in that year
was a life changing experience, but life moves on.

Life moves on. That is the irony that is central to my attempt to point to the dynamic at work here. But the paradox is that not all of us, and not all
disabled people, have to deal with a progressive disease. To apply for a job in an accountancy firm after my graduation from Technical and Further Education
would have been to ask the prospective employer to initiate a general policy change that we, as a society, were only just beginning to think about let
alone implement.

The political consideration of equal opportunity and affirmative action was still at an early stage. So, as I look back on it now, it is no wonder that
I was attracted to the higher education field which proved to be more advanced, and hence more hospitable to me with my particular needs, than most other
areas.

I am the beneficiary of higher education which has been required to make room for disabled people. But then, it seems that higher education was also being
re-oriented to make it compatible with job training for a post-industrial society. In such an environment, as Marta Russell has pointed out, a university
degree becomes the evidence that society has met its obligations to help disabled people compete. Equal opportunity was not always matched with appropriate
affirmative action.

In this respect I would suggest that affirmative action needs to be taken to a new level. And perhaps this new level cannot be reached without recognising
the ongoing obligation which a degree-granting institution has to its graduates. Understanding mutual obligation from the institution to its highly qualified
graduates is downplayed if not lost entirely.

In my own case, a university which takes a qualified post-graduate student with Friedrich’s Ataxia into its PhD programs, should not view itself as giving
a sympathetic expression according to the medical model’s agenda, which has the unfortunate ability of systematising disability policy pursuits. Although
that is, I am sorry to say, the predominant way in which Australian higher education under third way and neo-liberal policies tends to view such achievements.

That’s the itch I have wanted to scratch. We need universities that will recognise that their institutional mutual obligation is not transacted merely
by granting degrees and then every year thereafter sending out brochures inviting its highly qualified alumni to give generously to the university’s noble
cause.

In my case I am forced to ask: How is it that the university has not required me to give back by post-doctoral research and to be part of its ongoing research
effort? How is it that it can take on a candidate without expecting to maintain its responsibility to provide ongoing support after graduation, and also,
in order that its own research work is enhanced by my contribution?

Note, my point is not to ask that my work be judged before I do it. I am referring here to the lack of effort or empathy that seems to come from the side
of those administrating higher education institutions in Australia.

Writing On Line Opinion pieces, or developing my own Blogspot, are indeed satisfying experiences and I would not want them to be taken away. But such personal
satisfaction at getting a paper published is not the main game. What I am concerned about is the development of genuine policy for the severely disabled,
and in particular, policies that will seek to meet needs that arise from progressive disability.

I have always done what is needed to be done, and I only wish to keep bringing to light the individualism of people with disabilities.

PETER BOOK POSTER FINAL

I talk about social issues and disability in my book, 6 and a ½ Years on a Dunghill: Life in Specialist Disability Accommodation.