Living on less than two dollars a day: OECD Forum Discovery Lab

René Xavier OCDEAt the OECD Forum on 2 June, Xavier Godinot, Delegate for International Affairs of ATD Quart Monde (ATD Fourth World ), and René Locqueneux, a member of this NGO in the north of France, led a lively debate with over 50 Forum participants on living on less than two dollars a day.
(Une version française de l’article est disponible ici.)

Xavier Godinot explained that they both took part in participatory research to evaluate the Millennium Development Goals with people living in poverty in 12 countries. Their report Vers un développement durable qui ne laisse personne de côté : le défi de l’après 2015 (Towards sustainable development that leaves nobody behind: the post-2015 challenge) is available here, in French.

Xavier Godinot. The World Bank defines poverty as living on less than two dollars a day per person. We don’t care much for this simplistic threshold, but we’ll talk about people with very little money to live on.

René Locqueneux. Here’s what I was told by Béatrice, a woman who lives near me and who gets the Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA), a job-seekers allowance. “My RSA is €709 a month. I need €438 to pay the gas, electricity, rent, insurance, telephone and Internet and pay back a loan. That leaves 271 euros to feed my son Jessy and me. We have to go and beg for a food parcel from the St Vincent de Paul association.”

Xavier Godinot. When Béatrice has paid all her monthly bills, “left to live on” for food, clothing, transport, recreation, etc. is E4.5 per person per day. That’s better than $2, but it’s not much and Béatrice needs the help of the St Vincent de Paul food bank. Mr Locqueneux, what do you think of food aid?

René Locqueneux. In New York, 1 inhabitant in 5 needs food aid. In Europe, everybody is angry about the cuts to funding for the EU programme for the most needy. And every year, it’s the same old story: more demand than ever this year, and next year even more people will need help. Of course if people have nothing to eat, you have to feed them, but avoid making them welfare-dependent.

In developing countries, we helped the population to dig wells to irrigate and cultivate the land. In France, it would be interesting to give poor people a piece of land they could cultivate. But I think it’s easier to hand out a food parcel than to accompany them to get access to their basic rights, enable these men and women to have a decent job to bring up their families with dignity.

Xavier then presented five recommendations from ATD Quart Monde for post-2015 (when the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals are to be implemented.

First, leave no person behind in development programmes. He asked René what activists do to make sure everyone was included.

René Locqueneux. To meet the poorest people, for the last few years in my local group we’ve been going to the Post Office on the day the minimum welfare payment comes through. We tell people that if they have trouble obtaining their rights, we in ATD Quart Monde can help them for free to get what they’re entitled to.

Second, involve people living in poverty in knowledge sharing. Xavier asked René to tell us about ATD’s People’s Universities (in French, Spanish and Portuguese) he’s been involved with for a number of years.

René Locqueneux. Every two years since 1989 there’s been a Quart Monde European People’s University, bringing together people living in poverty from all over Europe and enabling them to talk to officials from European institutions. We thought we had to make realistic proposals that could have an impact on European policies. To do that, you need to know what these policies are, and get to know and understand the people working on these policies in Brussels. We had to share the experiences of people who know poverty with people linked to the European institutions. So we created a group to prepare the People’s University and make proposals during the campaign for the European elections.

I’m an activist and a member of the local ATD Quart Monde Sambre-Avenois group in the north of France. We thought about “active inclusion”. We presented a summary to the working group in Brussels. All the members of our group took part in writing the proposals. We worked on it for several months. It was very tiring, but we overcame our tiredness thanks to the very interesting and constructive exchange of views. We were motivated by the fact that as actors in the fight against poverty, we wanted to make our ideas known, and make proposals to Europe.

Third, promote an economy that respects people and the environment.

René Locqueneux. With the solidarity-based economy, it’s very interesting to buy goods from developing countries at cost price or above to enable these countries to develop.

What means a lot to me is when we put insertion into this economy. After a training course, I worked as a technical organiser for insertion programmes. A law passed in 1998 against exclusion talked about the reinsertion of those people the farthest from employment, and insertion was supposed to be a stepping stone towards a job in the market sector. In reality, we took people on for a year or two then they went back to square one because there were no jobs at the end of it. And we started again with other people. That was the reality.

Xavier Godinot emphasised that ATD Quart Monde calls for social safety nets in every country because half the world’s population has no social protection. He then presented ATD quart Monde’s fourth post-2015 proposal: education and training for all, based on cooperation among all stakeholders.

René Locqueneux. Every child should be able to learn and succeed in school, without discrimination, and have the same opportunities for their future. All too often, children from underprivileged backgrounds are oriented towards a specialised education, sometimes even from pre-school.

If schools are to offer the same opportunities and the same quality to all children, you have to avoid orientation too early and a hierarchy among the different curricula that reinforces inequality. The changes needed should be defined along with the parents, especially those who are the most excluded.

ATD’s fifth recommendation is to promote peace through participatory governance.

René Locqueneux. To conclude, we want those without a voice to be heard, we’re fed up being treated as welfare cases, we have knowledge and ideas. Let’s construct a Europe where all citizens have their place.

Useful links

Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries

OECD work on poverty reduction in developing countries

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