The World Bank’s flawed and misunderstood poverty benchmark has led to a deceptively positive picture and dangerous complacency
- Philip Alston is the outgoing UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
Poverty is suddenly all over the front page. As coronavirus ravages the globe, its wholly disproportionate impact on poor people and marginalised communities is inescapable. Hundreds of millions of people are being pushed into poverty and unemployment, with woeful support in most places, alongside a huge expansion in hunger, homelessness, and dangerous work.
How could the poverty narrative have turned on a dime? Until just a few months ago, many were celebrating the imminent end of poverty; now it’s everywhere. The explanation is simple. Over the past decade, world leaders, philanthropists and pundits have embraced a deceptively optimistic narrative about the world’s progress against poverty. It has been lauded as one of the “greatest human achievements”, a feat seen “never before in human history” and an “unprecedented” accomplishment. But the success story was always highly misleading.