Cambridge questions can be controversial and to do well for such questions, it is crucial to understand the intricacies underlying each question and provide intelligent, original answers to them.

  1. Is it more important to focus on poverty abroad or poverty at home?
  • Most people agree that poverty is a serious issue that warrants grave attention.
  • The scale of devastation wrecked by poverty around the globe is alarming.
    • Over a billion people live in ‘extreme poverty’ and a further 1.6 billion people live in ‘moderate poverty’
    • ‘Extreme poverty’ is defined as living on less than US$1.90 a day. This translates to perpetual malnourishment, no proper shelter, vulnerability to diseases and deprivation of basic necessities. It causes misery and suffering at best, and death at worst.
    • ‘Moderate poverty’ is defined as living on less than US$3.10 a day.
  • The effects of poverty in developed countries are less extreme as compared to developing countries such as sub-Saharan Africa and India. Imagine not having enough food to eat, clothes to brave the winter, clean water to drink, nor the simple pleasures that make life more bearable.
  • Oxfam’s definition of poverty in developed countries are often defined relative to median income (e.g. below 60 percent of the median).
  • For well-heeled people in the developed countries to live affluently while seeing the poor suffer and starve seems morally depraved.
  • Yet, global poverty (with the exception of China) has shown limited progress in the last few decades.
  • In UK, the government’s genuine and earnest pledges to lower local child poverty seem to backfire.
  • Several high-profile international resolutions tackling global poverty were met with scant progress.
    • G8 conference in Gleneagles in 2005: Tony Blair cajoled the world’s richest countries into pledging GBP 25 billion of aid to Africa by 2010.
    • Of the 8 countries that pledged money in 2005, only Britain kept its promises.
    • Japan, France and Italy fell way short, despite pressure from Barack Obama and Gordon Brown at the G8 Summit in 2009.
    • The promised aid is only a meagre 5% of U.S. defence budget, and merely 2% of the bank bailout package UK government had expended in the 2009 crisis.
    • The 2009 bank bailout cost the US government a whopping amount of US$23 trillion — over 10,000 times the entire GDP of an African country like Gambia, and many hundreds of times the entire Africa’s GDP.
  • The sheer scale of these differences highlights the utter powerlessness (or lack of strong political will and commitment) of governments, or private aid organisations to have a long-term, sustainable impact on world poverty.
  • Therefore, the question on whether to focus on poverty at home or abroad in the long term is a red herring.
    • Both have the same root cause and the same ultimate solution.
    • According to the World Trade Federation in 2009, bank bailouts in USA alone accounted for US$23.7 trillion. Worldwide, it is over US$40 trillion. Switching just a fifth of the bank bailout funds could lift all the people (living in extreme poverty) out of poverty for 5 years.
    • The total bank bailout would be worth about US$7,000 for every single person on the planet.
  • Nonetheless, sophisticated economic arguments abound to convincingly demonstrate the flaws or non-workability of such a straightforward solution.
  • Governments and banks faithfully heed these advices and are disinclined to make significant policy shifts.

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