“The relationship between poverty and inequality is neither clear nor direct. Poverty and inequality are analytically distinct concepts. They vary independently of each other, and it is misleading beyond a point to treat the one as a marker of the other. It is difficult to make any meaningful statement about the relationship between the two without specifying which conception of poverty and which aspect of inequality one has in mind” (Andre Beteille, 2003). In this assignment, the relationship between poverty and inequality will be discussed, there will be an explanation of how and why poverty affects or is affected by inequality also how has the relationship between poverty and inequality has changed in the post-apartheid South Africa.
The definitions of poverty are debatable, but it can be defined as the condition of not having the means to afford basic human necessities. According to Marxist view, the major cause of poverty is inequality or uneven distribution of wealth and income, a main consequence of capitalism. According to Lister (2004), types of poverty are absolute poverty and relative poverty and a clearer separation between the two terms helps to avoid confusion and unnecessary confusion between broader and narrower notions of poverty (Lister, 2004: 3).
Absolute or extreme poverty is a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It is poverty that is below an official line set at the ‘absolute standard of what households should be able to count on in order to meet their basic needs’ (Coudouel et al., 2002, p. 33). It depends not only on income but also on access to social services (Gordon, 2005). According to Sachs (2005), relative poverty is generally a condition in which a household income level is below a given proportion of average national income. It refers to an unequal distribution of income and economic resources of a country among the people. It is defined in comparison with other people in the area (Gordon, 2005).
Inequality refers to disparities and discrepancies in areas such as income, wealth, education, health, nutrition, space, politics, and social identity. It is a broader concept than poverty in that it is defined over the entire population, not just for the portion of the population below a certain poverty line (Haughton & Khandker, 2009). Inequality is concerned with the uneven distribution of resources and opportunities among individuals, among groups in a population or among countries, occurring at a given point in time or over time (Gordon, 2005).
Relationship between poverty and in equality. Poverty is related, yet different from, inequality (Haughton & Khandker, 2009). According to Marxist view, poverty is more likely to occur in a society which accepts inequality and I agree with this view. Economic inequality, which according to Gordon (2005) generally focuses on disparities in income, wealth and consumption, is often found in conjunction with other social inequalities faced by people marginalised because of identities such as gender, disability, race, ethnicity, caste religion or language, resulting in intersecting and manually reinforcing inequality (Kabeer, 2015). It acts as a proxy for asset inequality, assets distributed unequally, so its relation to poverty is that it may increase poverty if assets are distributed unequally, as the importance of asset distribution is poverty reduction (Haughton & Khandker, 2009).
Inequality of opportunities as a result of differences in background, social treatment and conditions, indicated by unequal access to employment or education, is related to poverty as those born into relatively disadvantaged or poor households increasingly get fewer opportunities to live a fulfilling life (Bucelli, 2017). Inequality based on race and gender also relates to poverty in a way that households facing poverty are ‘black’ households and the most are owned by women and this is evident in our society. This is because black people have been treated or seen inferior to white people since the times of apartheid and women did not get jobs easily, if they did, they got lower salaries than men while doing the same jobs (Kabeer, 2015).
Political inequality, when certain individuals or groups have greater influence over political decision, despite procedural equality in the democratic process (Gordon, 2005). According to Kabeer (2015), political inequality is related to poverty in a way that it makes the rich individuals or groups richer, as they are the ones involved in political decision-making, and the poor poorer because the decisions made only favour the development of the superiors which increases poverty. Based on the explanations, I agree with the fact that the relationship between poverty and inequality is neither clear nor direct.
Karl Marx’s alienation theory with different types of alienation explained different ways in which inequality between capitalists or employers and workers, in workplaces, is related to poverty. Firstly, alienation of workers from the products they produce relates to poverty because these products only make profit for the capitalist through wage-labour agreement, leading to worker not being able to afford some necessities. Alienation of workers from the production itself is the second reason why inequality relates to poverty because workers end being poor as they will do anything for the wage they need for survival.
Thirdly, alienation of workers from their true inner self, desires and the pursuit for happiness by their conversion into an object by the capitalist mode of production. This proves the relation of inequality of capitalist and worker to poverty as the workers could end up living in poverty because they have accepted their situations of being objects of capitalist production, they no longer desire to something better than that. Alienation of workers from one another by a system of production which pits them against each other in a competition to sell their labour for the lowest possible value relating to poverty as workers may end up earning very low wages hindering them from living a fulfilling life. It can be concluded that inequality relates to poverty as there is no theorist who has opposed this yet.
Poverty is affected by inequality directly and indirectly through their link with economic growth. Inequality decreases the rate of employment which the number people working in a country, holding back economic growth and poverty is affected by this because the poor cannot be developed as there is no money available for their development (Bazillier & Hericourt, 2017). Inequality leads to corruption by the government officials who are given money to develop the rural areas, instead they steal the money leaving the poor undeveloped. It is beyond reason that poverty is indeed affected by inequality and this cannot be denied because of the evident lack of economic growth led to by inequality increasing poverty at the end.
Post-apartheid, post-1994, South Africa is the democratic South Africa. The relationship between poverty and inequality has not necessarily changed in the post-apartheid South Africa. The post-apartheid government has tried to intervene by placing policies that will bring change in the lives of the people living in poverty by decreasing inequality, but the relationship between poverty and inequality has remained the same overtime (Albertyn, 2003). Inequality still rises as the HIV/AIDS pandemic lowers economic growth and has a devastating impact on the poor and unemployed increasing poverty indicating the unchanged relationship between the two terms (Albertyn, 2003).
Despite the government introducing Expanded Public Works Programme in 2004 to increase employment, there has been a rapid expansion of the labour force, which has caused an increase in unemployment and increased income inequality also leading to an increasing in poverty (Frye et al., 2011). According to Albertyn (2003), the South African post-apartheid government has been focusing on developing the urban areas, the areas they live in, and forgot about the rural areas as they have been treating these areas unequally leading to an increased poverty and this concludes the fact that the relationship between poverty and inequality has not changed.
In conclusion, as the increase of poverty is caused mostly by inequality, which the governments have failed to fight off, the governments should at least try and introduce more programmes such as Child Support Grants and the building of RDP houses for the poor. Besides the relationship between poverty and inequality being neither nor direct, based on the points discussed in the assignment, the relationship between the two cannot be denied.