The Belvedere Journal
Poverty: A Rant On Economic Inequality
by Tumi F
The cycle of poverty begins when a child is born into a poor family. These families often have limited or no resources to create opportunities to advance themselves, which leaves them stuck in what is, effectively, a poverty trap.
Can you imagine being asked to run a race where you start 10 miles behind all your opponents? You're bound to lose, right? That's considering you even manage to stay motivated enough to reach the finish line at all. Well this situation is a reality that many people face all around the world, and it makes me angry, so get ready for my 1,117-word-long-rant that's basically about how unfair the world is. So, if I didn't explain it properly or that example was too vague, this article is going to be about poverty, the people it affects, and how in the future we can stop something as unforeseen as the family you're born into from defining the quality of your life or what you can achieve in it.
What is the cycle of poverty?
The cycle of poverty begins when a child is born into a poor family. These families often have limited or no resources to create opportunities to advance themselves, which leaves them stuck in what is, effectively, a poverty trap. On paper, the cycle of poverty has been defined as a phenomenon where poor families become impoverished for at least three generations, often for longer. 7 million people, including 3.9 million children, were affected by persistent poverty in the UK in 2020-21, meaning that they were not only in poverty, but had been for at least two of the previous three years. Child poverty has been rising, reaching 31% in 2019/20. That means at least one in three children are in poverty. These kids' life chances will inevitably be affected by the situation they find themselves in now. As much as it can't be blamed on them for being born into this position, it equally can’t be blamed on their parents, who were most likely born into this kind of environment themselves, and because of that, lack the resources to put their kids in a better situation than they were.
Who are the most likely to face economic inequality?
People of Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic backgrounds are much more likely to face income, health, and social inequality. Nearly 36% of ethnic minorities were likely to live in poverty compared to 17.2% of white people, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said. Meanwhile, nearly 31% of Pakistani or Bangladeshi people lived in overcrowded housing, a figure dropping to just 8.3% for white people.
So why can't they just work hard?
Work doesn’t actually provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Seventy five percent of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one person works. These parents do work, but face a higher risk of poverty due to the lack of an additional earner, low rates of maintenance payments, gender inequality in employment and pay, and childcare costs.
These kids will often end up living in poorer areas and by extension go to worse schools, where their chances of doing well academically significantly decline because of a lack of quality resources and staff. Even if they manage to go to a good school, they can’t afford the same benefits as their classmates (for example, expensive textbooks or tutors for their weaker subjects). And even if they manage to overcome all these obstacles and come out with great grades, if they're not offered a big enough financial aid package they still may not be able to progress to higher education. Or, may not want to out of a reluctance to be in debt from student loans.
Poverty around the world can be even more terrible in LIDCs (low-income developing countries) with the standard of living not even being relatively comparable to how we live here in the UK. Being from Nigeria, my own mother has grown up living in a home with one room and just a series of curtains to split the space, in order to give each person in her family of nine an ounce of privacy. In fact, she often tells me that sometimes she would get so hungry as a child that she would resort to eating sand as a snack, very different from the chocolate digestive, you and I, both know and love. Obviously, this way of life wasn’t her choice but something passed on to her due to the lack of opportunities her parents and their parents were presented with. As you can imagine, the schools weren’t great and even if they were I struggle to imagine where they'd find the time or space to complete their schoolwork. Help with their simultaneous equations wouldn't have been available at home either, as her parents would've left school early to help support their family. In Nigeria, the school leaving age is just 15 years old.
However, it is possible to some extent to free yourself from this trap. My mum managed to find a way out, and while we are definitely not among the wealthiest 100 people in the UK (that have as much money as the poorest 18 million people combined), we have a roof over our heads and are never hungry, which are things we should all be grateful for I believe.
When I asked my mum how she thought she did this, she said she 'couldn't have done it without the help of people who were lucky enough to be in a better position financially than us.' And it's true because after moving in for some time with a local priest, who was a friend of the family when she was younger, she was able to eat 3 meals a day, get her own space, and focus on her studies more. Without that person extending kindness towards and believing in her, I'm not sure I would be here writing this now.
So unless people work together to end poverty, many families will never free themselves from it. Breaking away from this cycle of high inequality and slow job creation lies in equipping the poor with the skills they lack, and the best way to do this is through a good education. I think one of the better ways to make this more accessible would be by fuller financial aid being offered to people, such as the Stormzy scholarship, which gives a chance to 30 black students each year to go to Cambridge for free. However, the requirements for such full-ride scholarships tend to be incredibly high and hard for someone who didn't grow up with great resources to achieve, so I believe the requirements for free education should be lower as well as there also being better tools for schools in poorer areas, so that kids have the chance to even apply to university in the first place.