It is true. Living standards around the world have gone up generally.
Matter of fact, global inequality reduced in the last decade for the first time since the early 19th century during the First Industrial Revolution.
A large part of this change in fortunes has been driven by a spike in average incomes in the developing world – the developing world encompassing relatively poor countries like India and China, the two most populous nations in the world, not to mention countries in Latin America.
However, looking at the issue from such a wide lens would be papering over the cracks and ignoring the true sentiment on the ground.
Because while the masses are enjoying better incomes driven by a multitude of factors (key among them literacy) there is still a yawning gap between the rich and poor people that continues to grow wider by the year even in developed nations like the UK and United States.
In fact, it is this disparity in financial status that has fuelled movements like Occupy Wall Street in the United States and the Yellow Vest protests in France as people grow disenchanted with the increasing inequality in incomes.
There is a sense that the ‘system’ is unfair and favours those with good connections, a few who are keen to maintain the status quo.
These sentiments echo the general feeling among the working class in most countries around the world, not just in France and the US – other parts of Europe, central Asia, Africa; no region is exempt.
But as the class wrangles between the super rich and working majority rage on, people on the financial bottom rung of society seem to have been forgotten.
As the world grows more closed up and everyone watches out for their own personal interests, we seem to have cast the poor man on the street and his family onto the peripheries of society.
It is disconcerting that in this day and age, millions of people are still living in the streets. The last time a worldwide survey was attempted in 2005, the UN Habitat estimated that 100 million people across the world were homeless.
And this is not just in India and countries in sub-Saharan African.
Rich countries like Britain have their own share of people sleeping rough on its streets. Thousands cannot afford a meal to sleep on, let alone put bread on the table – for those fortunate to have the table in the first place.
We could list a raft of reasons explaining the reasons behind the inequality in the world, from government policy to corruption to illiteracy and what-not, but let’s leave that for the research papers.
Of more importance is the acknowledgement that it exists and what we can do about it.
For subscribers of religion, the Christian creed of being your brother’s keeper seems to have been forgotten.
I’m sure we all can agree that people have become too individualistic in this modern society of ours – which itself has not actually helped as it advocates for personal independence and uniqueness at the expense of the social collective.
We only get mad when the price of avocado goes soaring and go huff and puff when we can’t log in to our favourite social network even for a few hours due to outage. We argue that it keeps us ‘connected’ (which it does on a global scale) but in essence what it has done is serve to disconnect us on an individual level.
Few care about what happens beyond their families, and even that ‘family’ is getting more compact as we close our eyes to the happenings within the larger extended family. We accuse some members of being a burden and reason that we can’t manage to be mindful of them as we have ‘too much to deal with’.
That’s not until we probably learn of their passing, then we will show up, with the guilty conscience leaving us wondering if or how we could have helped. But no sooner are the funeral proceedings wrapped up than we restore to default settings.
But we can do better than that, each one of us. We do not need to be philanthropists or members of non-profits that cater to the less privileged in society to show a bit of empathy to those suffering.
But empathy alone cannot solve the issue. It needs action.
Some might argue that it makes more sense teaching a man to catch fish than giving him fish for dinner. Absolutely, that’s the way to go – empowering people to stand on their own feet as opposed to giving them hand-outs throughout.
Taking children out of the streets and into a help centre where they can get some education, for example.
Or imparting women living in extreme poverty with vocational skills such as tailoring and embroidery, nanny training and childcare, basic nursing skills and so on.
Their male counterparts could also be empowered by training them in fields such as carpentry and metalwork, plumbing and electrical and more.
However, that can only work in the long-term.
There are instances where the fish makes more sense, at least in the short-term, as you literally cannot teach a hungry stomach to begin with. This form of help could come in the form of food, clothing, communal shelter – you know, the basic human needs.
Then we can go on from there.
Obviously, this alone is not enough to accomplish equality on a global scale. But uplifting the lives of the poor is a good starting point.
The notion of an equal world may be an illusion as it might be naïve – particularly in an individualistic society characterised by greed – but it doesn’t mean there are things we cannot do at a personal and community level to uplift the lives of the downtrodden in society.
As we wait for governments to create that enabling environment which may never be realised in this lifetime, there are things we could do in our own small ways that could have a far-reaching effect on that one person, and in turn, that small community.
The reverberating effect that would transpire can only be for the common good of humanity.