Lack of access to good quality education, health, electricity, potable water and other basic services still affects millions of people around the world. Many factors are responsible for this: socioeconomic, gender, ethnicity, geography and others. In this context the Brazil Learning Initiative for a World without Poverty (WWP) seeks to encourage a broader debate with a view to helping social policy thinkers and managers to familiarize themselves more clearly with this major problem and to investigate ways of tackling it throughout the world.

There is no single universally accepted definition of poverty. The concept of poverty is rooted in different societies´ values and obeys the particular logic of individual countries. When drawing up strategies to tackle poverty, many international agencies and governments adopt anti-poverty measures based on an individual´s income or purchasing power.

According to this viewpoint, a “poor” person would be anyone whose per capita income or buying power within a household or family is below the minimum considered essential for meeting basic human needs. This minimum is widely known as the “poverty line”.

Since whatever is actually required to meet “basic needs” varies over time and reflects the particularities of different societies, the “poverty lines” also tend to fluctuate, with countries defining lines that are judged relevant to their levels of development, socio-cultural values and standards. Thus some countries adopt an “official poverty line” as a basis for their poverty reduction policies.

The most recent poverty data released by the World Bank (October 2016), based on daily per capita income, signaled a worldwide decline in poverty levels. In 2013, the year for which the most comprehensive data on global poverty are available, 767 million people (10.7% of the world´s population) were estimated to be living below the international poverty line of US$ 1.90 per capita per day – the lowest percentage, according to the Bank, in the history of mankind. In effect, since 1990 some 1.1 billion people are deemed to have escaped from extreme poverty.

More recently, the international social protection community has highlighted the need to link multidimensional aspects to income insufficiency in a bid to determine poverty levels. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), launched by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2010, complements monetary measures of poverty by considering overlapping deprivations in the areas of health, education and living standards in order to calculate the poverty level in a country, state, municipality or neighborhood.

Poverty in Brazil. During the 2000s, economic growth, a stronger formal labor market, increases in the minimum wage and the expansion of social policies contributed to raising the incomes of poor families in Brazil. As a result, inequality declined by around 80% between 2003 and 2013 (World Bank, 2016).

It is estimated that the Bolsa Família Program (PBF), Brazil’s main conditional cash transfer program, is alone responsible for the 10-15% reduction in income inequality observed in the first 10 years of this century.

At the time the PBF was created in 2004, the Brazilian Government established monthly per capita incomes of R$50 and R$100 as benchmarks for defining “extreme poverty” and “poverty” respectively. These benchmarks have been adjusted annually since then to account for consumer inflation. The “extreme poverty” line is currently fixed on the basis of a monthly per capita income of up to R$ 85, and the “poverty” line on a monthly per capita income of between R$ 85.01 and R$ 170.

The reduction in extreme poverty in Brazil was also highlighted by the 2014 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD). Between 2013 and 2014, the extreme poverty rate fell by 29.8%, due especially to the progressive increase in real per capita household income from R$549.83 in 2004 to R$861.23 in 2014, and by the reduction of inequality, (as confirmed by the 9.7% reduction in the Gini index since 2004).

In addition to supplementing household incomes, the PBF is a key ally in the fight against poverty, helping to provide access to health, education, social assistance, food security and productive inclusion. For all these reasons, Brazil´s social protection system has become an inspiration to the developing world. With its network of partners, the WWP makes it possible for the knowledge generated by these policies to be shared with other developing countries and thus assists them with tools for overcoming poverty.