Forging renewed commitments towards eradicating extreme poverty

By Keetie Roelen and Vidya Diwakar

‘Decent Work and Social Protection: Putting Dignity in Practice for All’ is the theme of this year’s UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty held on 17 October. Enabling these outcomes and practices is more pertinent than ever. According to recent reports, the world is currently off track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 on ending extreme poverty by 2030. The Covid-19 pandemic, rising food and fuel prices, debt and other intersecting crises including climate change and conflict are making lives more precarious and creating new poverty traps.

This changing landscape requires a rethink of the most appropriate and effective ways to reduce poverty and help people to navigate precarity, respond to shocks and increase resilience.

On 27 and 28 September 2023, the Centre for the Study of Global Development at the Open University hosted the international workshop ‘Poverty Reduction: Rethinking Policy and Practice’. Co-hosted by the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network at the Institute of Development Studies, and supported by the Development Studies Association and EADI networks, the hybrid workshop welcomed 45 participants from around the world to discuss the current state of affairs and share ideas for getting back on track towards ending extreme poverty.

As co-organisers, we reflect on four of the key take-aways of the workshop discussions.

1. Linking poverty eradication to the climate change agenda

First, the short- to medium-term future of poverty reduction does not look good. Projections and new estimates presented at the workshop suggest a best-case scenario of stagnating poverty rates over the next few years, especially concentrated in challenging contexts of conflict and various sources of fragility including those due to climate risk. More pessimistic estimates indicate that poverty may even increase.

Yet despite the continued scale of the challenge, workshop participants expressed concerns on how poverty eradication seems to have slipped down the development agenda.

Linking the poverty eradication and climate change agendas more closely could be a means of renewing international commitments towards poverty reduction, given the reinforcing relationships that underpin these global challenges.

2. Balancing resilience-building with recovery programming

Second, intersecting crises only amplify the scale of the challenges experienced by people in and near poverty, and can act to drive downward mobility, as observed during Covid-19. There is moreover a convergence of conflict fatalities, climate-related disasters and high numbers of people in and near poverty in certain low- and lower-middle income countries.

In this context, anti-poverty programming that seeks to respond to intersecting crises requires strengthening. Resilience-building is one such means of pre-emptively addressing multiple crises. At the same time, given the salience and chronicity of these crises, there needs to be a stronger focus on recovery programming such that it goes on for much longer than it currently does.

3. Responding to structural change within decent work and social protection strategies

Third, social protection and broader anti-poverty programming remain spaces for exciting new initiatives and exploration of novel individual, household and community-based interventions, or components thereof. From needs-based case work to use of digital tools to improve village savings and loan associations or public works programmes, there is no shortage of ideas to try and make programming more effective while at the same placing humanity and dignity at its centre.

At the same time, there was strong recognition that more bottom-up approaches can only succeed in an enabling environment. Structural factors, including continued manifestations of global coloniality, and macro policies – to stimulate economic growth, establish labour market conditions, or prioritise public spending – ultimately determine the conditions for success of poverty reduction interventions. An important recurrent theme was the enormous cost of mounting levels of debt for many low-income countries, and the considerable pressures this puts on their public resources.

4. Centring frontline workers in poverty eradication programming

Fourth, the human relationships linking people in poverty to higher-level policymaking are often overlooked or undervalued yet remain vital in achieving poverty reduction. Community leaders, frontline workers and shopkeepers selling subsidised food items, for example, are at the forefront of delivering services, and often also wield considerable power over the allocation of resources themselves.

This makes frontline workers crucial stakeholders in strengthening the social contract between citizens and the state, and holding governments to account. At a more human level, they are at the forefront of ensuring support is delivered in inclusive and dignity-enhancing ways. More research into the relationships between frontline workers and the populations they serve, and more support for these workers, is needed to strengthen the dignified delivery of anti-poverty programming.

Keetie Roelen is the Co-Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Development and a Senior Research Fellow at the Open University, UK.

Vidya Diwakar is the Deputy Director of the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network and a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, UK.

Image: Davide Roberts under a creative commons licence on Flickr

Note: this blog was simultaneously published on CSGD, CPAN, IDS, EADI and DSA websites in recognition of this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.