What is the poverty cycle, and how do we break it?
“These people are so lazy. Why don’t they just get a job?”
“You can’t give money to homeless people, they’ll only spend it on drugs.”
“I don’t see why I should give to charity… nothing ever changes anyway.”
You’ve probably heard people say things like this – maybe you’ve even thought them yourself. When we see poverty around us, it’s hard to understand it and it’s even harder to accept it.
There are many harmful stereotypes which poor people have to contend with, alongside the everyday struggle of getting by. But the reality is that poverty is not a choice; it’s a situation. Any of us could be in a less fortunate person’s shoes – many of us are just one illness or redundancy away from falling into a downward spiral of poverty.
It is our mission here at Penny Appeal to break this toxic cycle of poverty and empower people to be able to create better futures for themselves and their families.
But what does the poverty cycle mean?
Sociologist Janet Mola Okoko defines the poverty cycle as, “a vicious spiral of poverty and deprivation passing from one generation to the next.” Our diagram shows clearly how the ‘vicious spiral of poverty’ is made up of overlapping elements, such as disability and lack of education, which all impact each other and make escaping poverty more and more difficult over generations.
How do people get trapped in a cycle of poverty?
To show you how the poverty cycle traps people in the real world, let’s use an example of three women across generations of a single family. This family’s story has been written to illustrate how the poverty cycle can harm and ensnare people for generations, but their experiences are a reality for millions of people.
Halima loses her father as a baby, and her mother, Sara, can’t afford to send her to school. When she grows up, Halima can’t find a job, because she isn’t well educated and her village is going through a drought.
Halima’s mother, Sara, wants her to get married, so that she can be stable and cared for. Halima marries another poorly educated man from her village, but he also struggles to find work, and the couple lives in poverty.
Soon, Halima becomes pregnant and has a beautiful baby girl, who she names Aaliyah. But because of a lack of income and the food shortages in their village, Aaliyah is born malnourished, which leads to health problems for the rest of her life.
Halima has to walk miles to collect water, and the rest of her time is spent nursing her sick child. In time, Halima has more children, and the struggle to provide enough food, water and medicine for them becomes harder and harder. The family can’t afford to send the children to school; from a young age, they have to collect water and help around the house.
When Aaliyah grows up, she finds it hard to get a job because she has learning difficulties and is uneducated. She gets married. She has children. They live in poverty. The cycle continues.
The cycle of poverty is a desperate trap, but it is not infallible.
It can be broken, and we have the tools to do it.
How can the poverty cycle be broken?
If you look at our diagram above, you can see how our unique programmes have been developed to find weaknesses in the cycle of poverty, and provide people with the tools to break themselves out of it.
Let’s look at how our programmes could help Halima’s family to break the poverty cycle.
Halima was orphaned as a child, losing her dad at a young age. This puts her family at risk of poverty, but thankfully Halima’s mother, Sara, receives support from our OrphanKind or Hifz Orphan programmes, so that she can better care for her daughter and make sure she’s healthy and going to school every day.
Through our Feed our World and Women’s Welfare programmes, we train Sara in climate-resistant farming through our sustainable Vegetable Gardens projects. This helps the family to eat properly and even have leftover food to sell at local markets.
Through our local partners, Penny Appeal hears that there is a great need for a deep well in this village, so with the help of our donors, we build one with our Thirst Relief appeal. That means that Halima never has to miss school or skip doing homework to fetch water, and her mother, Sara, can water her gardens and watch her vegetables grow.
Little Halima grows up to be healthy and well educated, and she decides to work hard and become a teacher at a local school which is supported by our Education First programme, helping disadvantaged children in her area to get a good education for free.
When Halima gets married and decides to have children, she has money saved from her work, and her baby Aaliyah is born healthy and happy. If there are any complications during birth, she can receive vital support from our Fragile Lives programme, which helps new mothers and their babies.
Halima’s family are stable and independent – they are able to send Aaliyah to school and give her a wonderful childhood and a bright future. The looming presence of poverty has not been passed down through generations, and the family are free to enjoy their lives and plan for the future.
The cycle of poverty has been broken.
If we look at the story of Sara, Halima and Aaliyah, we can see that the family isn’t lazy or doomed to a life of struggle. They are simply a family going through hard times, who need a helping hand to get the support and opportunities they deserve to build a better future for themselves.
In fact, we are already on the road to breaking the poverty cycle for good, Alhamdulillah. In the last 70 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from over 70% to under 15%, according to Our World in Data.
With the climate crisis already putting people in danger, it is likely that the number of people trapped in the poverty cycle may rise – but we have the tools to break families out of a life of poverty, and we will keep improving and adding to our programmes, so that we can help more people every day.
Together, we can break the tragic cycle of poverty and empower families for generations.
THURSDAY 5 DEC 2019