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Day Four of Living Below the Line: The Rich Get Richer Whilst the Poor Get Poorer

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Yesterday (Thursday) was a real struggle, my energy levels were low and being productive was an uphill battle. I went out after work today and sat in the pub drinking water whilst people ate and drank around me, and by the time I left the pub I was longing for the end of Friday.

Because the food I have been eating is so bland, I haven't been looking forward to the food itself but instead, the feeling of being full. For someone who loves food, cooking, trying new things, and enjoying huge variety, this has been a whole new experience for me. I ate a boiled egg for breakfast, some potato and tuna for lunch and some rice and passata for tea (again).

But whilst some people have questioned the sanity of anyone taking this challenge, others have been inspired by the dedication of the 3,000 people across the UK and 15,000 across the world who are undertaking the task. The questions I'm being asked are what is causing this inequality and what is being done?

These are big and important questions because the 1.4 billion people who live in extreme poverty is a big and important number, the kind of number that can make you feel powerless to make a difference - the problem can seem unsolvable. But some progress has been made. At the beginning of my lifetime around 40% of the world's population lived in what is defined as 'extreme poverty', now it's around 28%. Continue on that course and we could be extreme poverty free by 2045.

The great worry now is the effect that the global financial crisis is having on this progress.
Never before have we seen so much wealth while so many continue to live in absolute poverty. Not just around the world, but in the UK as well. Astoundingly the cumulative wealth of the richest people in the UK has increased compared to last year, the combined financial worth of the 100 wealthiest men and women in Britain now tops $675bn, a rise of 4.7 per cent since 2011. This is against a backdrop of the poor getting steadily poorer; the TUC living standards index has just revealed that the poorest people have been getting poorer every month for the last two years as high inflation, tax rises and wider economic problems take their toll on family budgets.

Poverty in the UK and around the world is the result of structural failures, ineffective economic and social systems and a failure in action and leadership from our politicians and world leaders.

The global structures and institutions that seem to be set up to systematically keep the poor in poverty and make the rich richer must continue to be challenged. And they are being, by NGOs, trade unions and progressive political leaders at G8, G20 and other major world summits, but this work is hard and relentless and progress is slow.

Trade unions also have a unique contribution to make in the challenge to eradicate poverty. As a trade unionist I firmly believe that decent work is the best route out of poverty both at home and internationally and crucial to meeting other development goals such as gender equality. 'Decent Work' is a key Millennium Development Goal that unions are focusing on, taking our long history of tackling poverty pay and exploitation in the UK, all over the world. By working in partnership with trade unions across the world, we support campaigns to win on pay and terms and conditions for the world's poorest and most vulnerable workers.

Taking the Live Below the Line challenge has reinforced to me the important role that trade unions play in alleviating global poverty through striving for decent work for all. I'm now looking forward to getting back to work, fully focused, to work with colleagues in the trade union movement to continue to bring about social justice both in the UK and across the world.

Around the Web

Living Below the Line: Days 3 & 4 Sustaining and living with less

Live Below the Line: the £1 a day food and drink challenge

Janus Adams: Understanding how people live 'Below the Line'

Living below the line for Christian Aid

Live Below the Line: Meeting the challenge to live on $1.50 a day

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