Poverty as Social Deprivation: A Survey
Mabughi, Nyiwul, Selim, Tarek, Review of Social Economy
Abstract The concept of poverty is discussed using qualitative and quantitative measures as an indicator for social deprivation. Poverty can be absolute, relative, income based, consumption based, or entitlement based. The variation in the concept of poverty reveals its dimensionality. However, when closely examined, these dimensions are seen to be conceptually interrelated and complementary rather than substitutable. The concept used to define poverty determines the methods employed to measure it. Composite indicators can hide important policy messages inherent in their constituent variables.
Keywords: poverty, social deprivation, Sen's entitlements, human development
The theme of this paper is to provide a normative review of the concept of poverty as social deprivation. Since poverty has numerous social dimensions, a multiple dimensional survey of the poverty concept is presented. The evolution of the concept of poverty from absolute pauperism and physical efficiency to a relative standard of living, and its further conceptual development towards social entitlements and well being within the greater human development literature is fully explained. In general, this paper describes the conceptual evolution of the poverty issue by examining the range and development of the means and measurement of evaluating its many dimensions.
Poverty, in general economic reasoning, can be defined as social deprivation from a decent quality of life. Poverty has qualitative as well as quantitative dimensions. In the literature, poverty is interpreted as income based, consumption based, or, alternatively, entitlement based. The concept of poverty has a very long history and a rich vocabulary. Early studies on poverty in the 20th century can be traced back to Booth's (1892) pauperism and analysis of town life in Rowntree's (1901) work who initially defined poverty in terms of "physical efficiency"--a physiological standard referring to a prescribed "basket of goods." Rowntree's definition provides a framework for surveys conducted by Bowley. Nevertheless, by 1965, another philosopher, Townsend, contradicted Rowntree's definition and adopted a relative rather than an absolute standard of poverty. Townsend and Smith (1965) argues 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 diets, participate in the activities and have the living conditions which are customary, or at least widely encouraged and approved, in the societies to which they belong."
In Harrington's (1962) The Other America and Galbraith's (1958) The Affluent Society, much was said to arouse the attention of the public, the politicians, and especially academics about the importance of poverty to economic development. The 1964 report of the Council of Economic Advisers set out a $3,000 poverty line, drawing heavily on the research of Orshansky (1965). With more emphasis on the poverty line, the focus in the 1960s was on the level of disposable income, which was reflected in macroeconomic indicators like Gross National Product (GNP) per capita and with an emphasis on per-capita income growth (Eatwell 1987).
In the 1970s, political debate, especially within the World Bank and academic research in major universities, helped reshape the whole concept of poverty (Maxwell 1999). Further emphasis on relative deprivation, inspired in the UK by Runciman, helped redefine poverty as not just a failure to meet minimum nutrition or subsistence, but rather as a failure to keep up with the standards prevalent in a given society. Another important shift at this time was a broadening of the concept of income poverty to a wider set of "basic needs," including those provided within the socio-economic environment. Following the International Labour Organization's (ILO's) pioneering work in the mid 1970s, poverty came to be defined not just as lack of income but also as a lack of access to health, education, and basic social services deemed necessary for survival.
The 1980s saw new layers of complexities added to the concept of poverty. Principal innovations included:
(1) The incorporation of non-monetary aspects, particularly as a result of Robert Chambers' work on powerlessness and isolation. This helped to inspire greater attention to participation.
(2) A rejuvenated interest in vulnerability and its counterpart, security, associated with better understanding of seasonality and of the impact of shocks, notably drought. This points to the importance of assets as buffers, and social relations (the moral economy, social capital, etc.). It also led to new work on coping strategies.
(3) A broadening of the concept of poverty to a wider construct, livelihood. The Bruntland Commission on Sustainability and the Environment, which popularized the term "sustainable livelihood," adopted this line of thought.
(4) Theoretical work by Amartya Sen (1985, 1987) emphasized that income was only valuable in so far as it increased the "capabilities" of individuals and thereby permitted "functionings" in society.
(5) A growing interest in the study of gender as it relates to poverty. The debate moved from a focus on women alone (Women in Development-WID), to wider gender relatives (Gender and Development--GAD). Policies followed to empower women and find ways to underpin autonomy or agency.
On the other hand, the 1990s saw further development of the concept of poverty more towards the concept of well-being and failure of social entitlements. The idea of well-being came to act as a metaphor for the absence of poverty; with concomitant emphasis on how poor people themselves view their own situation. This has been termed the "participatory paradigm." At the same time, inspired by Sen, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) developed the concept of human poverty within the sphere of human development: "poverty is the denial of opportunities and choices" and the objective of human development is "to lead a long, healthy, [and] creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem and the respect for others ..." (UNDP Human Development Report 1997). This opened up a development approach to qualitative and quantitative measurements regarding the incidence and depth of human conditions of the poor.
THE QUALITATIVE DIMENSIONS OF POVERTY AS SOCIAL DEPRIVATION
Absolute, Primary, Secondary Poverty
The original contributor here is Rowntree (1901, 1935, 1950). Rowntree's original study, published in 1901, developed a poverty standard for individual families, based on estimates of nutritional and other requirements. Poverty was viewed in absolute terms. Absolute poverty referred to the subsistence below a minimum, socially acceptable living condition, established based on nutritional requirements and other essential goods. Sometimes known as subsistence poverty, absolute poverty was expressed in simple absolute terms as the equivalent sum of money required to attain minimum desired nutrition.
Rowntree also distinguished between primary and secondary poverty. He considered that families whose income was too low to provide minimum necessities were in primary poverty, while families whose incomes were marginally above the "poverty line" would place themselves in secondary poverty if they budgeted unwisely (note the moral judgement buried in the concept of secondary poverty). Inherent in such an approach is a normative/ subjective assessment of basic human needs and a calculation of the resources required to meet those needs and maintain physical health. Such an approach was therefore concerned with establishing the quality and amount of food, clothing, and shelter required for a healthy life. However, Rowntree then changed and upgraded his assessments in later investigations, after conceding that poverty as a concept also has social dimensions because it is "socially constructed." Thus, Rowntree came to include what can be described as cultural needs. Based on his contribution, it is now upheld that poverty makes no sense if only confined to definitions of physical well-being. Other authors that adopted this approach include Drewnowski and Scott (1966).
There is widespread debate on whether poverty should be considered from the point of view of income or consumption. Each of these approaches has its pros and cons. Even if consumption is widely accepted and applied, the other …
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Publication information: Article title: Poverty as Social Deprivation: A Survey. Contributors: Mabughi, Nyiwul - Author, Selim, Tarek - Author. Journal title: Review of Social Economy. Volume: 64. Issue: 2 Publication date: June 2006. Page number: 181+. © 1989 Routledge. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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