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PUBLIC LECTURE David Gordon Professor in Social Justice Radical Statistics Annual Conference Global Child Poverty 26th February, 2005

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David Gordon

Professor in Social Justice

Radical Statistics Annual Conference

Global Child Poverty

26th February, 2005


Child Poverty in the UKThe UK Government is committed to tackling the problem of child poverty. In March 1999, the Prime Minister Tony Blair set out a commitment to end child poverty forever:“And I will set out our historic aim that ours is the first generation to end child poverty forever, and it will take a generation. It is a 20-year mission but I believe it can be done.


Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty

John F. Kennedy

Inaugural Address

Friday, January 20, 1961

Every blow we inflict against poverty will be a blow against its dark allies of oppression and war.

Ronald Reagan

Second Inaugural Address

Monday, January 21, 1985

In the quiet of American conscience, we know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation's promise. And whatever our views of its cause, we can agree that children at risk are not at fault.

George W. Bush

Inaugural Address

January 20, 2001


No More Hungry Children?

...within a decade no child will go to bed hungry, [...] no family will fear for its next days bread and [...] no human being's future and well being will be stunted by malnutrition.

Henry Kissinger, First World Food Conference, Rome 1974


Age at death by age group, 1990-1995

Source: The State of the World Population 1998


Only the good die young? – what kills children

Cause of death for children under five

Bars show estimated confidence interval


“The world's biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill healthand suffering across the globe is listed almost at the end ofthe International Classification of Diseases.It is given codeZ59.5 -- extreme poverty.

World Health Organisation (1995)

Seven out of 10 childhood deaths in developing countries can be attributed to just five main causes - or a combination of them: pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition.Around the world, three out of four children seen by health services are suffering from at least one of these conditions.

World Health Organisation (1996; 1998).


Champagne glass of income distribution

The stem of the glass is getting thinner.In 1960 the income of the wealthiest fifth was 30 times greater than that of the poorest fifth; now it's more than 80 times greater.


What is Poverty?

Jules Feiffer’s America


Change in Real Median Weekly Incomes 1979 to 1996 by Decile Group at April 1998 Prices (After Housing Costs)

(Source: Calculated from HBAI, 1998)


Absolute PovertyAfter the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, 117 countries adopted a declaration and programme of action which included commitments to eradicate “absolute” and reduce “overall” poverty.Absolute poverty was defined as "a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services."


Deprivation can be conceptualised as a continuum which ranges from no deprivation through mild, moderate and severe deprivation to extreme deprivation.

Continuum of deprivation

In order to measure absolute poverty amongst children, it is necessary to define the threshold measures of severe deprivation of basic human need for:

  • food
  • safe drinking water
  • sanitation facilities
  • health
  • shelter
  • education
  • information
  • access to service

Indicators of Absolute Child Poverty

Severe Food Deprivation– children whose heights and weights for their age were more than three standard deviations below the median of the international reference population, i.e. severe anthropometric failure.

Severe Water Deprivation - children who only had access to surface water (e.g. rivers, ponds) for drinking or who lived in households where the nearest source of water was more than 15 minutes away (indicators of severe deprivation of water quality or quantity).

Severe Deprivation of Sanitation Facilities – children who had no access to a toilet of any kind in the vicinity of their dwelling, including communal toilets or latrines.

Severe Health Deprivation – children who had not been immunised against any diseases or young children who had a recent illness involving diarrhoea and had not received any medical advice or treatment.

Severe Shelter Deprivation – children living in dwellings with more than five people per room (severe overcrowding) or with no flooring material (e.g. a mud floor).

Severe Education Deprivation – children aged between 7 and 18 who had never been to school and were not currently attending school (no professional education of any kind).

Severe Information Deprivation – children aged between 3 and 18 with no possession of or access to radio, television, telephone or newspapers at home.


Child Poverty in the World

Over one billion children – half the children in the world- suffer from severe deprivation of basic human need and 30% (650 million)suffer from absolute poverty (two or more severe deprivations).

‘severe deprivation of basic human need’ are those circumstances that are highly likely to have serious adverse consequences for the health, well-being and development of children. Severe deprivations are causally related to ‘poor’ developmental outcomes both long and short term.


Severe Deprivation of Basic Human Need

  • Almost a third of the world’s children have to live in dwellings with more than five people per room or which have a mud floor.
  • Over half a billion children (27%) have no toilet facilities whatsoever.
  • Almost 400 million children (19%) are using unsafe (open) water sources or have more than a 15-minute walk to water.
  • About one in five children aged between 3 and 18 lack access to radio, television, telephone, computers or newspapers at home.
  • Fifteen percent of children under five years in the world are severely malnourished, almost half of whom are in South Asia.
  • 275 million children (13%) have not been immunised against any diseases or have had a recent illness causing diarrhoea and have not received any medical advice or treatment.
  • 145 million children aged between 7 and 18 (11%) are severely educationally deprived - they have never been to school.

Shelter ]

Sanitation ] Physical Capital Items

Water ]


Food ]

Health ] Human Capital Items

Education ]

The severe deprivations of basic human need which affect the greatest number of children are ‘physical capital’ problems - deprivation of shelter, water and sanitation.Whilst fewer children suffer from deprivations of ‘human capital’ – health, education and nutrition, most of the world’s anti-poverty policies are aimed at improving that human capital, particularly in urban areas


UNICEF Child Poverty League of Rich Countries

Percent of children living below 50% of median national income

Source: UNICEF (2005)


Summary of Outcomes of Child Poverty


  • Mortality
  • Morbidity
  • Accidents
  • Mental Illness
  • Child Abuse
  • Teenage Pregnancy
  • Environment/Housing Conditions
  • Homelessness
  • Low Education attainment
  • School exclusions
  • Crime
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Suicide
  • Child Labour

Are Outcomes Associated with Poverty?

Yes, strong association with social class

Yes, strong association for most diseases

Yes, for fatal accidents (but not accident morbidity)


Yes, except sexual abuse





Don’t Know


Mainly after childhood





Source: Bradshaw (2001)


The Causes of Poverty

Weather Map, New Internationalist


Structural Causes of Poverty

  • Most poverty has a structural cause, rather than being the result of an individual’s ‘bad’ behaviour or choices.
  • Since the pioneering studies of poverty in 19th Century (such as Charles Booth’s in London), six groups have been identified as being especially vulnerable to poverty -
  • the elderly;
  • the unemployed;
  • sick and disabled people;
  • the low waged;
  • large families, and
  • lone parents
  • In many developing countries two additional groups are also at risk of poverty:
  • Landless and small farmers, and
  • fishermen and women

Low Wages and Child Poverty

Source: UNICEF (2000)


Income Support and poverty levels 2001/02(defined as half mean income after housing costs)

Source: Piachaud & Sutherland (2001)


The Cost of Ending Child Poverty: the amount needed to raise the incomes of all poor families with children above the poverty threshold


The World Banks Solution to Poverty

The Washington Consensus

  • The World Bank has pursued the same set of anti-poverty policies for almost 40 years; These have three elements:
  • Broad-based economic growth
  • Development of human capital, primarily through education
  • Minimum social safety nets for the poor
  • The World Bank has pursued these policies by rigidly adhering to neo-liberal economic orthodoxy. (Joseph Stiglitz, 1998; 2000)
  • Privatisation – which tends to raise prices for the poor
  • Capital market liberalisation – which can allow speculators to destabilise countries’ economies, as has happened in Asia and South America
  • Market-based pricing – which raises the costs of basic foods and fuel for the poor and has caused rioting, particularly in South America, eg Bolivia, Ecuador and, recently, Argentina (economists should not be provoking riots around the world)
  • Free trade – which is governed by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that often severely disadvantage poorer countries

Growth is Good for the Poor?

Source: Dollar and Kraay, Journal of Economic Growth, 2002


Dollar and Kraay’s Conclusions: Did they Discover a New Law of Nature?

“Average incomes of the poorest fifth of a country on average rise or fall at the same rate asaverage incomes …. in a large sample of countries spanning the past four decades. This relationship holds across regions and income levels, and in normal times as well as during crises ….

. This supports the view that a basic policy package of private property rightsfiscal discipline, macroeconomic stability, and openness to trade on average increases the income of the poor to the same extent that it increases the income of the other households in society. ….

. On the other hand, we find little evidence that formal democratic institutions or a large degree of government spending on social services systematically affect incomes of the poor”


Faith in the Market

“At present almost all elite Americans, with corporate chiefs and fashionable economists in the lead, are utterly convinced that they have discovered the winning formula for economic success – the only formula – good for every country, rich or poor, good for all individuals willing and able to heed the message, and, of course, good for elite Americans:


Edward Luttwak (1998), Turbo Capitalism

The world is plagued not so much by poverty but by a rampant “suspicion of wealth…everywhere these ideas prevail…poverty persists and spreads”

George Gilder (1981) Wealth and Poverty

“It is the entrepreneurs who know the rules of the world and the laws of God”

George Gilder (1984) The Spirit of Enterprise

Towards the end of the century, many developing countries—China and India among them—finally threw off this victim's mantle and began to embrace wicked capitalism, both in the way they organised their domestic economies and in their approach to international trade. All of a sudden, they are a lot less poor, and it hasn't cost the West a cent.

Economist editorial, 11/3/2004


"Faith is believing what you know isn't so."

Your faith is what you believe, not what you know."

  --  Mark Twain


Poverty in the UK: The Solution?

“This would mean restoring to the centre of the tax system two basic principals: the first, that those who cannot afford to pay tax should not have to pay it; and the second, that taxation should rise progressively with income. Programmes that merely redistribute poverty from families to single persons, from the old to the young, from the sick to the healthy, are not a solution. What is needed, is a programme of reform that ends the current situation where the top 10% own 80% of our wealth and 30% of income, even after tax. As Tawney remarked, ‘What some people call the problem of poverty, others call the problem of riches’.”

(Gordon Brown and Robin Cook, 1983)