More poor people in the West lose dignity with inaction of governments
Published: Oct 16, 2022 11:32 PM
Demonstrators protest outside Downing Street against the government's handling of the cost of living crisis as one in three British households is predicted to face fuel poverty this winter amid surging energy prices in London, United Kingdom on September 05, 2022. Photo: AFP

Demonstrators protest outside Downing Street against the government's handling of the cost of living crisis as one in three British households is predicted to face fuel poverty this winter amid surging energy prices in London, United Kingdom on September 05, 2022. Photo: AFP

This October 17 marks the 30th International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP) established by the United Nations (UN). China has eradicated absolute poverty and is marching toward common prosperity. "We have ensured and improved public wellbeing as a matter of priority and pooled resources to wage a critical battle against poverty,"  a report delivered at the opening session of the 20th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress on Sunday noted. Nonetheless, poverty-stricken people in the West see little hope for any improvement in their quality of life.

A complex global problem, poverty is also plaguing developed countries in the West. A report released by the US Census Bureau on October 4 revealed that the US had 41 million people, or 12.8 percent of its population, living in poverty in 2021, an increase of 2 million people compared to 2019. This is US' first poverty rate increase in a decade. At the same time, 73.7 million people in the European Union (EU) - about 16.5 percent of the population - are at risk of poverty. In the UK, around 14.5 million people are living in poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's UK Poverty Profile 2022. That's more than one in every five people.

Although the poverty threshold is set a bit higher in the West than standards typically used by international organizations, those alarming figures still demonstrate how much worse the life of those facing poverty in Western countries has become over recent years.

Poverty is at the root of many social and economic problems. To many extents, a number of contradictions and conflicts are now emerging within the West from the failure to address the widening wealth gap between groups. However, Western political elites have long neglected poor people.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, said at a UN conference last year that he comes from a country that not only doesn't care about the world's poor, but it also doesn't even care about its own poor. And poverty is an almost unsolvable problem in Western countries. At a political level, the inaction of some Western governments has led to the uneven development of the capital market and the growing prominence of poverty and other problems it generates. What's more, many Western politicians are unwilling to tackle the issue of poverty, because it would be unprofitable for them and may even negatively impact their own personal interests.

Fan Peng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Political Sciences, told the Global Times (GT) that in the face of poverty, the West would rather choose to shift the blame onto globalization and other countries, using politicized actions to replace cooperation within the international community focused on global governance.

"The West's failure eventually led to intensifying political conflicts at home. And to distract people from these domestic issues, Western countries begin exporting wars to other parts of the world, causing more suffering and creating more poor people," Fan noted.

In stark contrast to the West's failure to deal with poverty, China has lifted nearly 800 million people out of extreme poverty over the past four decades, contributing to almost three-quarters of the reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide. China's victory has not only solved a major global governance issue, but also added a lot of certainty to the global community.

Ding Yifan, a researcher at the Institute of World Development, Development Research Center of the State Council, said that China's victory in poverty alleviation reflects the advantage of the country's socialist system. The CPC has never forgotten its original goal of improving people's lives. Deeply rooted in the mass people, the CPC has a well-developed organizational structure to implement poverty governance at the grassroots level and achieve precise poverty alleviation.

Though unique, China's valuable experience in poverty alleviation still can help other countries in need. In a recent interview with the GT, Sachs claimed that China's success in poverty alleviation is "not only a wonderful and remarkable accomplishment, but also a road map for Africa and other places still facing extreme poverty."

While striving to achieve common prosperity at home, China is also actively taking steps to promote global cooperation to tackle poverty. The Global Development Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping has made poverty reduction one of its key areas, and cooperation projects have focused on dealing with problems, including poverty alleviation. This is what a responsible great power looks like.

Western countries have always had an ambivalent feeling of admiration and jealousy toward China's poverty alleviation efforts. In fact, the West does not need to feel confused over this issue. As long as they are willing to put aside their prejudices against China and view China's success against extreme poverty pragmatically, these nations can also learn some lessons from the Chinese model. But the question is, are Western politicians willing to do so and take meaningful action?

"Dignity for all in practice" is the umbrella theme of this year's IDEP. Today, many people living in persistent poverty are deprived of dignity and respect. If Western elites fail to recognize the urgency of addressing poverty, it is afraid more poor people with the loss of dignity will be found in the West.