8: Global poverty and inequality

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The goal of global poverty reduction is now at the heart of an international consensus, enshrined within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and pursued by international institutions such as the World Bank and governments in high- and low-income countries alike. But deciding what poverty is, how it should be measured and the best ways to reduce it are not straightforward. Furthermore, related phenomena also demand our attention, particularly the current degree of global inequality and its causes and consequences. In addressing these issues, the aim of this chapter is not to summarise the huge volume of literature on poverty and inequality that now exists, or to explain basic concepts relating to poverty and inequality, which can be found elsewhere. Rather, it aims to explore and explain the challenges of measuring and tackling poverty and inequality at the global level. It will discuss some national-level concepts and data for various countries, but its chief aim in doing so is to explain how these are related to processes of globalisation and how they are incomplete without a global analysis.

The chapter discusses global poverty and inequality in turn. In both cases, it discusses issues of measurement first before going on to discuss the politics and policies related to tackling the problem. It is worth noting from the beginning, however, that measurement issues are not purely technical matters, but are themselves highly political.

Ruth Lister (2021, pp 3–4) argues that ‘there is no single concept of poverty that stands outside history and culture. It is a construction of specific societies.

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