ACCORDING to the World Bank, global poverty has decreased by 36% since 1990, as 1.1 billion people have “escaped poverty”.

In 2000, at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, the UN set the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which aimed to “eradicate world poverty”, cutting poverty in half by 2015.

And in 2010, it was announced that this goal had been met five years ahead of schedule.

The MDGs were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. The SDGs are part of the UN’s plan to eradicate poverty by 2030, but can they work?

This good news narrative that development is working and poverty is reducing runs contrary to many people’s experiences. This comes as no surprise as we know that we live in an unequal world.

According to the Institute of Policy Studies, the world’s richest 1% – those with more than $1 million – own 45% of the world’s wealth.

Data gathered by the World Bank shows that poverty is on the rise in Sub Saharan Africa, the expected location of nine in 10 of the extremely poor by 2030.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean Economic Commission showed that the number of people living in poverty in 2017 reached 184 million (30.2% of the population).

Of that number, 62 million lived in extreme poverty (10.2% of the population) – the highest percentage since 2008.

As many people in Britain know, poverty is not only increasing in places like Senegal and Brazil, but also here in the UK.

The UK has one of the highest child poverty rates in Europe and the Institute For Fiscal Studies predicts that between 2015 and 2022 child poverty will rise by a further 7%.

These globally defined statistics do nothing to increase awareness of how poverty is understood and experienced locally. We need to hear the narratives behind the numbers.

With this in mind, I established the Poverty Research Network, which examines how history and culture can be valuable resources in the fight against the causes of poverty and dehumanising representations.

Facilitated by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), I set out to go beyond the mainstream development narrative and explore the local visions of global poverty.

During this project, we learned from a Quilombo (historic communities formed by fugitive slaves) in Brazil, migrant communities in Bangladesh, a Roma community in Slovenia, urban groups in Senegal, autonomous communities in the Mexican sierras fighting for their land and liberty and grassroots activists fighting poverty in Glasgow.

Activists, academics and representatives of these communities explained how they used their history and culture to resist the multiple waves of impoverishment and defend their way of life.

In the workshops we held around the world, people voiced their criticisms of the way in which poverty has been represented by the west and the problems of the solutions the west has proposed.

One community representative in Mexico, Luna Maran, who runs a cinema project in the autonomous community of Guelatao, stated that it was not people in the Sierra Mixe who were poor, but those in the West who have become culturally impoverished through capitalism.

This view was echoed in Senegal by social psychology professor Dieynaba Gabrielle, who observed that the capitalistic culture of consumerism de-humanises the poor as today’s consumerist culture dictates that to not buy and consume is to not be fully human.

In the Quilombo among the hills outside Rio De Janeiro in Brazil, communities did not want the development of new global business opportunities, instead calling for renewable energy infrastructure.

These perspectives point to a key problem in the way in which mainstream poverty reduction programmes have been imagined.

Representatives of the development industry and the international institutions that fund them – including the World Bank – have long believed that poverty is best reduced through economic growth.

There are two main problems with this. Firstly, poverty continues in countries which have experienced strong economic growth. Secondly, economic growth is responsible for the climate change and environmental degradation that exacerbates poverty.

As Jason Hickel of the AHRC points out, “to eradicate poverty at $5 a day, global GDP would have to increase to 175 times its present size”.

Even if this could eradicate poverty, it would destroy the planet.

To understand the alternatives to this, we might consider the conclusions of the report of poverty in the UK made by UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston.

Alston concluded in his report that “the experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice” and that “austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so”.

Our ability to imagine the future depends on our ability to remember the past. History provides evidence and insight into the deep causes of poverty, the moments of dispossession which create exploitation and make inequality the norm.

But history can also be a source of optimism.

The past also contains the multiple moments of resistance and the alternative ways of imagining ways of building a world in which we all can live.

Dr Julia McClure is lecturer in Early Modern & Late Medieval History at the University of Glasgow ‘Beyond Development: Local Visions of Global Poverty’ is exhibited at the Pearce Institute in Govan May 3-5