The annual income of the poorest 41 countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world's seven richest people. There are people living under the poverty line whether they are in the wealthiest or the poorest nations. Poverty is present everywhere. Over three billion people, almost half of the world's population, live on less than Dh9.2 a day. Globally, Dh4.6 per day is defined as the poverty line. According to the Dubai Economic Council, the poverty line in the United Arab Emirates is Dh80 a day.
The gross domestic product refers to the total market value of all goods and services produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports. It is often considered an indicator of a country's standard of living. On a global scale, and according to the CIA World Factbook and the International Monetary Fund, the UAE was ranked 35th out of 190 countries in 2010.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai control 83.2 per cent of the UAE's wealth; they are the largest suppliers and producers of oil. That means the other five emirates depend on the federal Government for financial support.
Causes of poverty differ from one country to another. One of the main causes in the UAE is society's focus on image. As an example, most individuals in an Emirati family own their own cars. Mostly they buy high-end cars and don't mind applying for a loan to own it. Ministry of Social Affairs research points to "high standards" as the most common factor of the impoverished, followed by the cost of living. People wouldn't be living in poor conditions if luxurious life had not been one of their priorities. Ninety-eight per cent of families getting help from the Red Crescent have loans that leave them unable to pay for the essentials of living.
Many families know they are eligible for help from specialist foundations. The main reason they don't ask for help is shame; they think it is embarrassing. Pride and dignity stop them from asking for the aid they need.
The UAE has no official published research regarding people living below the poverty line. The only statistics available were before the economic crisis, 2008 and earlier. A well-known Emirati organisation studies the poverty in the country annually, but does not provide research results for the public. They said it is confidential.
"The ministry is working on research to come up with detailed statistics about poverty in the UAE which will be available by the end of 2011," says Abdulsamad Al Kamali, coordinator at the Social Security Administration, Ministry of Social Affairs. All studies verify that there are no individuals living under the global poverty line. Dr Faris Abdulrazak, the chief economist of the Dubai Economic Council, says: "Construction workers have the lowest salaries in the country; however they earn more than Dh5,500 a year, the global standard of poverty according to The World Bank."
Al Kamali says: "An individual whose salary is Dh1,250 or less can get help from the Government. The Ministry of Social Affairs contributes to individuals by helping them financially starting from Dh625."
Low salaries are not the only factor the ministry considers. There are different categories the Government uses to determine when to help those in need, so all residents get the food they need to survive. However, these families will still be considered poor according to Emirati standards of living.
The UAE's Federal Law No. 2 of 2001 regarding Social Security Law states that widows, orphans, special needs, elderly, divorced and some other groups can receive financial aid from the Government. There are rules that apply before helping needy families. Specialised centres look at income, properties owned, the ratio of family members to rooms, rent cost and health status.
The Dubai Economic Council has listed different standards in measuring poverty in the UAE. "The council studied the minimum acceptance within the society," says Abdulrazak. Each country has different principles of living, and this is what was considered before coming up with a poverty line for the country. The results show that out of 16.9 per cent of the poor residents, 7.2 per cent are Emiratis. People living under Dh80 a day, or Dh2,400 a month, are considered poor. This amount for a family of six - the size of the average Emirati family - is not enough to fulfil basic needs.
The federal or local Government gives support to 27.1 per cent of Emiratis. Help can be provided as part of the citizens' salaries; in addition to their basic salaries, some people receive money for house rent and school fees for their children.
"Other than my basic salary, the company I work for pays for my children's education, health insurance and part of my house rent," says Saeed Mohammed, an Emirati father of four. "With the high cost of living, it would be hard for many householders to provide their family with an average lifestyle without the help of the Government."
Apparently, if the Government stopped helping its citizens, poverty would rise by 21 per cent in Dubai and would double in Sharjah, according to the Dubai Economic Council. This means that the help Emiratis get plays a large role in reducing the cost of living.
The Beit Al Khair Society says that 17,000 Emirati families need help from the Government. The UAE has people living in poor conditions, but not below the global poverty line. There are good intentions from the Government, through either specialised foundations or ministries. At the seminar held at the Dubai Economic Council, an economist said: "The poverty phenomenon in the country isn't considered deep and does not represent massive problems."
The society has 4,868 families registered to receive help. More than 50 per cent of these families receive help because of their low incomes. The remaining financial aid is distributed among different categories.
All available official information shows that there are few poor Emiratis in the country. Different authorities state different facts; some say that loans and high standards of living are the two causes of poor financial condition. Other foundations say that most of the people who need help are low income. All foundations avoid giving or officially stating that they conduct annual research regarding this issue. All they could provide were statistics from before the economic crisis.
The question is, is it true that the UAE doesn't have updated statistics?
Fatema Al Kamali and Hamda Al Bastaki, both 21, graduated from Al Khaleej National School in 2007 and majored in applied media communications at Dubai Women's College. Al Bastaki has directed a horror film, El Laileh, which screened at international film festivals.