Some women wash clothes in a river and a child bathes.

We should talk about achieving a fair standard of living for all rather than fighting poverty, the debaters write.


Reasonable standard of living - poverty reduction for real

Should the goal of international development work continue to be to reduce poverty? Perhaps it is time to see instead a fair standard of living for all as the goal of development work that is firmly rooted in human rights. That is the opinion of Gunnel Axelsson Nycander and Gunilla Palm at the Church of Sweden.

"No poverty" is the name of the first global sustainability goal in Agenda 2030. It is an ambitious and important goal, as poverty undermines and, in the worst case, violates human rights. Poverty also stands in the way of the realization of all the other sustainability goals. But is goal 1 a well-formulated goal?

"Absolute" or "extreme" poverty - it is on the basis of these categories that the recipients are selected in many development assistance initiatives and social security programs. Sometimes there is also talk of "the very poorest". But many organizations nowadays are careful not to talk about "poor people". There are good reasons for this. Poverty is not a trait, and therefore not a label that can be put on people. Poverty is a situation you may find yourself in, a situation that often changes during different phases of life.

The goal for Sweden's development assistance today is to create conditions for better living conditions for people living in poverty and oppression. Changing development assistance so that it is aimed at people who are in certain situations has been an important step forward for development work. Now is the time to discuss the next step in the view of development and human rights.

Poverty as a concept is of course important in order to be able to measure and follow social and economic development. But are "poverty" and "poverty reduction" equally relevant concepts when it comes to working for a just society and the realization of human rights? What if we were to turn the concepts around and ask the question instead: What is enough?

In development cooperation, it is common not only to talk about economic poverty but instead to start from a multidimensional perspective, which, for example, UN Development Agency UNDP and the aid authority Sida make. There, access to such things as education, political influence, gender equality, security, and a good environment are weighed into the categorization of who is poor.

The Church of Sweden's partner Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) in South Africa is also based on many different dimensions in people's life situation. But they also turn to the question. Instead of defining poverty, they choose to talk about what is a decent standard of living for all ("a decent standard of living") and how society must change to get there.

Today, November 20, SPII launches Decent Standard of Living Index - a tool for assessing whether people in South Africa have a reasonable standard of living based on a range of criteria and socio-economic variables. The tool is based on people themselves being able to participate and define what a reasonable standard of living means for them. The index shows that 80 percent of the population in South Africa does not have a fair standard of living and is thus deprived of the opportunity to fully exercise their civil and human rights.

SPII is based on Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: '… the right of everyone to a satisfactory standard of living for himself and his family… “For a development cooperation based on human rights, this is a logical starting point.

Shifting the focus from what is to be combated to what we actually want to achieve can also provide new perspectives on what changes need to be implemented, and persuade us to ask new questions. How do we help build societies that are sustainable and enable a fair standard of living for all?

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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