Caught in the Web of Poverty

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Jeung and his students, together with BRFN and other community-based organizations, surveyed refugees from Burma to assess the community's needs. The researchers found that in addition to high poverty rates, these refugees face barriers to accessing employment, health care and government benefits caused by their lack of English. These barriers have been exacerbated by recent cuts in the provision of English as a Second Language ESL classes and a lack of appropriate interpretation services.

The outlook is particularly difficult for refugees from Burma's Karen and Karenni ethnic groups, which make up the majority of the refugees from Burma that have resettled in Oakland. These ethnic groups originate from some of the poorest and least developed states in Burma. Within the physical environment of deprivation there develops a culture of poverty with its prevalence of disease, social disruption, violence in the home and outside, and dependence on drugs and alcohol.

In the mind set of the urban poor risk taking behaviour is common. The main victims of deprivation are women and children, the aged and the infirm. Evidence is presented to show the stultifying effects on children growing up in poverty.


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Remedial action is an uphill task, expensive and not always successful. An awakening of social conscience globally brought about by the stark realities of the urban poor living cheek by jowl in close vicinity of affluence and conspicuous consumption has led enlightened world leaders and economists to mobilise public opinion. The goals address not only poverty per se but also its effects. The target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals is set at Year Progress towards the target has been patchy and depends upon national political maturity.

Poverty is described as a deficiency of resources that significantly reduces life chances and prevents participation in events and relationships that give life meaning.

Such resources could be essential material resources such as food, shelter, water and sanitation, or social resources such as education, access to information, health care, social status and political power. Poverty is associated with chronic hunger and under nutrition.

It is also associated with lack of cleanliness and personal hygiene, as well as the consequences.

Oakland's refugees from Burma face extreme poverty, study finds | SF State News

Further refinement of the term "lack of essential resources" has led to the concept of resources "necessary for survival". An early attempt was made in by Seebohm Rowntree to work out how nutritional intake was related to the maintenance of body weight. To the costs of foods he added minimum sums for clothing, fuel, and other household items according to the size of the family.

Thus was born the subsistence standard which has been used as a measuring rod of poverty in one form or another in Britain as well as in several other countries. This does not take into account the effect of inflation. Based on such data many countries have established a minimum wage as a legal standard for payment of manual workers. In countries with high inflation rates multiples of minimum wage are used to define poverty. But people's needs are conditioned by the society in which they live and to which they belong. Not only do needs differ in different societies but they also differ in different periods of the evolution of each individual society.

Beyond mere subsistence is the style of living and prevalence of social interaction.

When individuals and families cannot participate freely in social groups and networks they suffer social exclusion. Many nations are thus in fact two nations - the haves and the have-nots. The haves exercise political power and when it comes to defining the 'poverty line'are reluctant to give ground Figure 1. Modern politics is about who gets what, when and how.

Think. Discuss. Act.

The proper task of government is to meet people's wants and reconcile them as far as they can be reconciled within available resources. Minimum basic needs, however defined, has come to be the defining factor in the 'politics of need'. All the great religions of the world give great importance to charity and giving of alms to alleviate poverty. Some even make it obligatory as a major tenet of religion. As nation states evolved and grew prosperous provision was made for the poor.

Caught in the Web

The state's intervention to secure the well-being of its citizens came to be seen the core of social welfare policy. In Britain the Poor Laws mark the first state intervention which commenced in medieval times. Experience gained through their operations and that of charity organizations led centuries later to the creation of the National Health Service, and indirectly to the creation of other social services. From time to time various Royal Commissions appointed by parliament have attempted to link the services more closely to the economic and social conditions of the time.

The changing nature of a large modernising society with rapid growth of large urban areas results in major social problems which could only be tackled by the provision of state-based services. A series of legislative acts introduced between and form the basis of he British Welfare State. In the developing world several countries have created their own anti-poverty programmes.

The first country to demonstrate that vast numbers can be rescued from chronic hunger was China. Early reports of visitors to China describing declining infant mortality, elimination of under nutrition, improving longevity and coverage with health services including immunization using innovative methods were first discounted as propaganda, and only later caught the imagination of the rest of the world. India with one of the largest population of the poor had established fair price grain shops at affor-dable price as far back as the 's. Brazil took the lead in immunization coverage by nominating National Immunization Days.

The initially sceptical medical establishment soon came to notice the benefit of it, and now the Americas have been cleared of polio for several years, and the world is on the brink of eradicating this dreadful disease. Such experiences show that enlightened national leaders chart the path towards the general good, and campaign hard to carry the rest of the nation with them. National enlightenment and solidarity allows the carrying through of programmes which may not be initially acceptable to some sections of the population. The Lula government in Brazil has built on the initiative taken by the predecessor Cardoso to bring about reduction in poverty and inequality in a country long known for its markedly skewed income distribution.

The Real Plan prompted a sharp drop in poverty by slashing inflation. In the years - the share of national income going to the poor half of Brazilian society increased from 9. Similar improvements are taking place in other Latin American countries including Mexico and Chile Figure 3. When individuals, families and large sections in society lack the resources for obtaining enough food, have inadequate living conditions and amenities of water and sanitation, and get excluded from the activities of the main stream society they constitute collective poverty.

Collective poverty is relatively general and lasting in much of the developing world Figure 4. Nutritional deficiencies, low life expectancy, high levels of mortality among infants, children and women, as well as chronic illness such as hypertension, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases and obesity among adults are prevalent.

What is more collective poverty gets transmitted from generation to generation.


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  • Oakland's refugees from Burma face extreme poverty, study finds.
  • For parents and their children living in the sprawling slums and shanty towns of the mega cities Figures 5 and 6 life on the margin has become the way of life with no avenues of social mobility, and a bleak future of living from day to day. A subculture of poverty pervades the slums and ghettos of the urban poor. The economic traits of this culture have been variously described as unemployment or under employment; low wages; unskilled occupations; child labour; chronic shortage of cash; no savings; absence of food reserves in the cramped home; a pattern of buying small quantities of food many times a day; pawning of personal goods; and borrowing from local money lenders at high rates of interest.

    The social and psychological characteristics of the culture of poverty are life in crowded living conditions with lack of privacy; high incidence of alcoholism and drug abuse; frequent resort to violence in the settlement of disagreements; early initiation of adolescents into sex; teenage pregnancy; free union or consensual marriage; high incidence of abandonment of mothers and children; and little ability to defer gratification so as to plan for the future Figure 7.

    Caught in a vicious cycle

    Development cooperation supporting trade is ultimately a question of poverty reduction by improving the operational preconditions for private entrepreneurship and enterprise in developing countries. Finland has played an active role in developing European Union policy in the scope of the international Aid for Trade initiative.

    Import policy is important both for developing countries and from the perspective of Finland and other EU Member States. Openness in imports thus also supports exports.