Poverty Essay, Research Paper
Compare and Contrast absolute and relative approaches to the definition and
measurement of poverty
The term Poverty has many definitions all of which share similar ideas, It is often
defined as a state of deprivation relative to those standards of living enjoyed by others
within the same society . Terms used to describe poverty may include; Income or
consumption poverty, Human under development, Social exclusion, Ill being,
Vulnerability, lack of basic needs and relative deprivation. All of the terms
mentioned above are regularly used to describe what is meant by poverty.
Townsend quotes that;
Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when
they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have
the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged
or approved, in the societies to which they belong. Their resources are so seriously
below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect,
excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities.
Poverty has been considered throughout history. Rowntrees study, published in 1901,
was the first to create a poverty standard for individual families, based on estimates of
nutritional and other requirements. Concepts of poverty have developed rapidly
however there are fault lines in the debates of poverty and what is actually meant by
poverty . The complexity of the measurement of poverty mirrors the complexity of its
Absolute poverty is the idea that it is possible to create an absolute minimum standard
of living required for physical health, this is often called the poverty line. This
definition of poverty is most often used by international and global organisations such
as the United Nations. Such a definition has been criticised by sociologists as they
argue that it is a very general and global definition and therefore fails to take into
account important socio-economic differences between countries and nations.
In 1901 Rowntree created this idea that there is a minimum standard or a minimum
necessary to maintain mere physical health. The idea was intended to demolish the
view that poverty was due to fecklessness. This measurement usually involves
judgement of basic human needs and resources essential for health.
In 1899 Rowntree created the poverty line based on dietary which was intended to
provide a family with adequate nutrition at a minimum cost. The families whose
income was too low to provide the minimum necessities were considered to be in
primary poverty. If the family were able to budget efficiently then they may be
considered to be in secondary poverty. The application of the subsistence approach has
implications for social policy. If society is able to provide a sufficient income to meet
subsistence needs then poverty can be abolished.
Rowntree purposely left out consideration of needful for the development of mental,
moral and social sides of human nature . In later work Rowntree did attempt to
incorporate the social factors.
The concept of relative poverty has mainly replaced that of absolute poverty in
sociological research. Relative poverty is measured in terms of judgements by members
of a particular society of what is considered a reasonable and acceptable standard of
living. Townsends definition is based on the assumptions that poverty can only be
defined and understood within the broader socio-economic context of the society in
which individuals live, relative poverty measures whether or not a person is poor in
relation to those around them. This definition of poverty suggests that the poor in
any given society are in part defined by their opposite, the rich .
A society has a distinctive set of cultural norms and values any definition of poverty
must include the choices and expectations that individuals have in their society. Any
poverty line must be drawn relative to given societies and further to the social divisions
they are in.
Within the idea of relative poverty the measurement of poverty is not concerned with
the scientific calculation of a minimum income needed for physical survival, but with
the income necessary to participate in the wide range of roles and relationships that
constitute full membership of society. Implications of this idea are that the standards
change over time therefore poverty is harder to eradicate. It involves acceptance of a
particular view of the causes of poverty.
Income poverty means that you are considered poor if you have less money than the
defined poverty line for your country. Measuring poverty is always considered a major
problem in the poverty debate. Money is not the only way in which poverty is
measured other factors must be considered to create a fair measurement. Human
poverty takes into account many other aspects apart from money such as life
expectancy, infant malnutrition, illiteracy and lack of clean water and food. Basic needs
definitions also go beyond money including all the things a person needs to survive
including employment and participation in society. The Rowntree Trust/ New policy
Institute uses fifty indicators to measure poverty in Britain.
There are a number of new ways of measuring poverty such as the Index of
Sustainable Economic Welfare. This measures quality economic activity. Another
method is the Human Poverty Index, this is ranked according to three main areas of
deprivation: survival, knowledge and a decent standard of living. The Gender Related
Developmental Index is a measure of female poverty and development across a number
Conceptions of poverty are held by individuals and groups and these are
institutionalised by the state. A large amount of individuals believe that poverty is a
standard of living below a minimally defined level. Gellner wrote that poverty is an
essentially contested concept. Poverty has many meanings and because of this
definitions, measurement and explanations of poverty have much controversy and
debate within the sociological analysis.