According to a recent press release, a community in West Lothian received almost £50,000 to raise awareness of climate change. This includes the appointment of a climate change officer “to tackle fuel poverty”.

And “considering your carbon footprint” hype combats poverty, how exactly?

Well, according to the report, there will be surveys, events, workshops and a local environmental group.

Meanwhile, according to another story, almost half of West Lothian children and young people are living in poverty in households dependent on benefits.

I’m in no way belittling the plight of those who suffer financial hardship and worry – I’ve been there myself. But “poverty”?

To help combat this, the council says it is providing an additional 1,620 free school meals, free swimming on Friday afternoons and nursery places for children three and over.

The report also identifies Livingston North and South wards as the most deprived areas.

Well, let me tell you about another town that shares the same name. Livingstone, in Zambia.

A few months ago I visited the place. There, appalling social conditions means that four out of five people live below the World Bank’s definition of poverty: living on less than $1 a day. (And just so you know, shop food prices are about the same there as they are here.)

Extended families live in squalid shacks or mud huts – no bigger than the average garden shed – without water, sanitation or electricity.

If they can get one meal a day, they are lucky.

There is neither light nor heat during the bitterly cold winter evenings, nor cooling systems during the sweltering summers.

The hospitals have no equipment for even basic surgery. Patients must take in their own surgical gloves, syringes and anything else the doctor might need. Even so, the under-fives wards are packed – with children suffering from starvation and malnutrition.

I walked with some of the tiny kids – many in bare feet, over stones and thorns – who will cover around eight miles to get to school each day because education is seen as their only way out.

And they are the lucky ones.

The number of children orphaned by AIDS in Zambia is expected to rise to one million this year. That’s almost a half of all children. As a result, many children are abandoned and simply live on the streets.

That’s a whole different Livingstone, is it not? And it’s a whole different “poverty”, too.

I wonder what these orphan street-survivors would think of our definition of poverty. What, I wonder, would they pray for in their disturbed and frightened dreams.

I doubt very much that it would be an awareness of their carbon footprint, a climate change officer, surveys or workshops. I also doubt if it would be nursery places and free swimming.

I’m sure they would use any £50,000 grant in a very different way.

Lying awake in bed worrying about how to pay a bill is one thing. Lying in an open gutter scared to go to sleep because you might not waken in the morning is another.

There is a difference between the two towns that share the same name. Just as there is a difference between “hardship”, and genuine die-in-the-street-from-starvation poverty.

A world of difference.

Drew McAdam



  1. George Watson says:

    A very thought provoking article. Mr McAdam raises some excellent points here. I enjoyed reading it and will be very interested to see other readers’ comments.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    An excellent article and yes it shows the relevence of what we think the meaning of a word or a state of being is compared to others in different parts of the world with a different social status.
    The relevence in this case of course is that here in the UK we see the official poverty line as being in receipt of some/any form of state benefits. This being the case the initial press release may have in fact been correct. However we are all aware that all over the UK we have families on these same stated benefits, classed as on or under the poverty line and yet, drive a family car, possess a mobile phone, have colour TV and have no real danger of starvation. Thoughts to steer by perhaps.

  3. Terry Stephens says:

    Having been to Livinsgtone Zambia a couple of times in the last few years and spent time with one of the schools and an orphanage I fully endorse the view. Some of the stories of the kids in the orphanage are horrific ( 3 year olds force fed booze to get them drunk so they can give the adults a laugh and becoming alcoholics by 5 ! )

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