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Crossed Lines 9 April 2014

Posted by Dr Moose in Life, Ponderings.
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https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/54/British_one_pound_coin_2013_reverse.pngThere has been much in my Twitter & Facebook feed of late concerning a campaign called Living Below The Line. People are encouraged to stand in solidarity with the 1.2 billion people in the world living on less than £1 a day (and be sponsored to do it by others as a means of charitable fund-raising.) Which is all very laudable and eye-opening.

But there is, of course, a complication. It’s pretty obvious when you think about it: the purchasing power of £1 (or the equivalent local currency) will differ between Britain, Burma, Bulgaria, Bangladesh or Brunei. You can’t make easy comparisons. You have to look at not the absolute value of the local currency but at what it will buy. For example, I went to visit India in 1990 for a holiday and at the time £1 was worth 33 rupees. Outside the major cities where prices were higher the mixture of cheek-by-jowl wealth and poverty was truly shocking, but outside them it was genuinely difficult to spend much. As a traveller it genuinely was possible to live on very low amounts of money. As a native it appeared not to be too dire to manage on about a £1 per day, certainly only on food costs, … unlike the prospect of doing it here in the UK! And, of course, that is exactly what the challenge being undertaken here is, to live on £1 (or $1.50) per day.

Living Below The Line has (inadvertantly) as much to speak to us about food poverty in the UK as it does about global poverty. Despite the weakness of comparison, and yet also because of it, we have a rare example of a campaign that truly links ‘us’ in the ‘rich’ West with ‘them’ in the Two-Thirds World. I just hope & pray that the comparison, highlighting the problems here, doesn’t lead to a reduction of giving elsewhere, where even our small contributions are so multiplied by comparative purchasing powers of local currency. After all, the popular phrase runs, “Charity begins at home”: the rarely spoken but frequent reality is, of course, that it rarely goes beyond it either.

(The pound coin design is Crown Copyright, not mine, and used without permission and without intention to steal or deceive…)

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