overty as a Social Problem:
We have all felt a shortage of cash at times. That is an individual experience. It is not the same as the social problem of poverty. While money is a measure of wealth, lack of cash can be a measure of lack of wealth, but it is not the social problem of poverty. See "Principles."
Poverty as a social problem is a deeply embedded wound that permeates every dimension of culture and society. It includes sustained low levels of income for members of a community. It includes a lack of access to services like education, markets, health care, lack of decision making ability, and lack of communal facilities like water, sanitation, roads, transportation, and communications. Furthermore, it is a "poverty of spirit," that allows members of that community to believe in and share despair, hopelessness, apathy, and timidity. Poverty, especially the factors that contribute to it, is a social problem, and its solution is social.
We learn in these training web pages that we can not fight poverty by alleviating its symptoms, but only by attacking the factors of poverty. This handout lists and describes the "Big Five" factors that contribute to the social problem of poverty.
The simple transfer of funds, even if it is to the victims of poverty, will not eradicate or reduce poverty. It will merely alleviate the symptoms of poverty in the short run. It is not a durable solution. Poverty as a social problem calls for a social solution. That solution is the clear, conscious and deliberate removal of the big five factors of poverty.
Factors, Causes and History:
A "factor" and a "cause" are not quite the same thing. A "cause" can be seen as something that contributes to the origin of a problem like poverty, while a "factor" can be seen as something that contributes to its continuation after it already exists.
Poverty on a world scale has many historical causes: colonialism, slavery, war and conquest. There is an important difference between those causes and what we call factors that maintain conditions of poverty. The difference is in terms of what we, today, can do about them. We can not go back into history and change the past. Poverty exists. Poverty was caused. What we potentially can do something about are the factors that perpetuate poverty.
It is well known that many nations of Europe, faced by devastating wars, such as World Wars I and II, were reduced to bare poverty, where people were reduced to living on handouts and charity, barely surviving. Within decades they had brought themselves up in terms of real domestic income, to become thriving and influential modern nations of prosperous people. We know also that many other nations have remained among the least developed of the planet, even though billions of dollars of so-called "aid" money was spent on them. Why? Because the factors of poverty were not attacked, only the symptoms. At the macro or national level, a low GDP (gross domestic product) is not the poverty itself; it is the symptom of poverty, as a social problem.
The factors of poverty (as a social problem) that are listed here, ignorance, disease, apathy, dishonesty and dependency, are to be seen simply as conditions. No moral judgement is intended. They are not good or bad, they just are. If it is the decision of a group of people, as in a society or in a community, to reduce and remove poverty, they will have to, without value judgement, observe and identify these factors, and take action to remove them as the way to eradicate poverty.
The big five, in turn, contribute to secondary factors such as lack of markets, poor infrastructure, poor leadership, bad governance, under-employment, lack of skills, absenteeism, lack of capital, and others. Each of these are social problems, each of them are caused by one or more of the big five, and each of them contribute to the perpetuation of poverty, and their eradication is necessary for the removal of poverty.
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