Following her recent appointment as Secretary of State for International Development in Theresa May’s first government Priti Patel spoke about the need to tackle poverty across the developing world as one of the greatest challenges of our time. The new Prime Minister herself also spoke about fighting against poverty, however, unlike Ms Patel, she spoke about it within the context of a developed nation, the very nation that she has just accepted to govern.

What is poverty?            

There is no one universal definition of poverty (it occurs in several different forms), there is no universal agreement as to how to measure it and it isn’t only prevalent in developing countries (although the amount of media coverage given to poverty in certain countries may lead some to believe otherwise). Two definitions which are widely used when discussing the issue are: Absolute poverty and Relative poverty.

Exactly how a country is classified can vary from organisation to organisation. For example, a country classed as a transition economy by one organisation may be classed as a developed country by another. Governmental opinion is also an important factor in how a country is classified. The UK is classified as a developed nation ( 40, 550 GDP) and experiences relative levels of poverty. India is classified as a transition economy (6, 020 GDP) and largely experiences absolute poverty (eg: in rural areas). Zimbabwe is classified as a developing country (1, 700 GDP) and experiences absolute poverty.

How does food poverty currently affect the UK, India and Zimbabwe?


According to the Trussell Trust food bank use remains at record high with over one million three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in 2015/16. The increase since 2008-2009 has been significant. It has been widely reported that cuts to the welfare budget, changes to the benefits system and low wages are to blame for the rise in the amount of people needing help to feed themselves and their families. The Trussell Trust has a network of over 400 foodbanks.  Although food bank users are largely presented as being from working class backgrounds, it has been reported that a significant number of middle class families also struggle to feed themselves and therefore also turn to food banks for help.


Despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, poverty in India is still pervasive; especially in rural areas where 70% of its 1.2 billion population live. This can largely be put down to agricultural and manufacturing problems. Cultural factors do also have an influence on poverty in India, for example, the caste system.  Even though it was abolished in the 1950s, the population, in many ways, is still divided in terms of social class.  As in any society that struggles with huge poverty, social classes vie for resources. This could be comparable with the social class system of the UK where working class families seem to struggle the most in society. Last year India announced its plan to launch a food welfare plan by December of that year. One of the main goals of the programme was to allow 67% of its people to access cheap rice and wheat.


In February this year Robert Mugabe, President of former Commonwealth country, Zimbabwe, declared that his country was in a state of disaster as a result of rural parts of the country being hit by drought. The country has been experiencing abnormally low rainfall since last year, leading to the deaths of thousands of cattle whose grazing areas have become parched. Agricultural production has been severely affected. According to an assessment carried out in May, about 4 million people will need food aid in the first quarter of next year. . Alongside the continuing agricultural problems in the country, there is also continuing political upheaval as opposition protests, boosted  by Veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war , have been held calling for Mugabe to step down.
Alongside the continuing agricultural problems in the country, there is also continuing political upheaval as opposition protests, boosted  by Veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war , have been held calling for Mugabe to step down.

The fight back…

March 2013 saw the launch of the Commonwealth Charter, Article 9 of which focuses on Sustainable Development and how it can help to eradicate poverty. Last year, during a UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York, a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted  byadopted by world leaders as part  of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The SDGs formed an important part of a seminar on governance and sustainable development that was held on 8th June this year at the Commonwealth’s headquarters in London. During the seminar Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth Secretary-General said, when talking about the UN SDGs “These are our Commonwealth priorities too and it is clear to me that all our work must be directed towards helping our member states to [achieve them]”.

With the first anniversary of the adoption  of the SDGs coming up next month, it will be interesting to see how the Commonwealth intends on building upon not only its previous efforts, but also how it intends on continuing its work with its international partners to eradicate poverty and improve the lives of people all over the world.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Royal Commonwealth Society