Peter Saunders (2011): Down and Out: Poverty and Social Exclusion in Australia

By Scutella, Rosanna | The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Peter Saunders (2011): Down and Out: Poverty and Social Exclusion in Australia


Scutella, Rosanna, The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR


Peter Saunders (2011)

Down and Out: Poverty and Social Exclusion in Australia

The Policy Press, Bristol UK

pp. 276 + xiii

Hardback: ISBN 978-1-84742-839-4

Paperback: ISBN 978-1-84742-838-7

RRP: AUD 215.95

RRP: AUD 49.95

Peter Saunders is one of Australia's leading authorities on poverty, deprivation and social exclusion. This book is therefore a must read for anyone interested in these issues in Australia. And while the book provides quite a comprehensive perspective of who is poor in Australia and what it means to be poor, it also provides a compelling narrative on how the discourse around poverty and social exclusion has evolved in Australia over recent decades.

Although average living standards have improved considerably in recent years this does not mean that socio-economic disadvantage has been eliminated. Down and Out reminds us of that. There does however continue to be much debate about the extent and nature of disadvantage in Australia, and how it has been changing in recent times. In particular, debates about what being 'poor' or 'disadvantaged' actually means persist, especially when it comes to assessing adequate levels of income and material wellbeing. The Henderson poverty line, developed in the 1960s and early 1970s, is no longer widely used, and other income-based approaches to poverty remain contentious. There correspondingly remains no official measure of poverty in Australia, and increased awareness of the conceptual limitations and measurement problems associated with a single income-based measure of poverty means none is likely in the near future. Although value judgements will always be involved in assessments of who is disadvantaged there is clearly a need for better information on the experience of inadequate living standards in the Australian community. Such information is key to monitoring wellbeing in Australia and is essential to the appropriate formulation and rigorous evaluation of government economic and social policies--be they specifically targeting disadvantage or not. This book is one such key contribution to improving our understanding of the wellbeing of our citizens and residents.

In Down and Out, Peter Saunders reminds us that in recent times, broader concepts of disadvantage have taken over from the more traditional ways of thinking about poverty. Two such concepts include approaches to thinking about socioeconomic disadvantage and poverty, either as deprivation or as social exclusion. These definitions matter, because they indicate what citizens value and what shapes government policy and practice (p. 1).

The book's Introduction and Overview chapter provides a valuable summary of debates over conceptualising these multiple dimensions of social disadvantage. It argues that as well as income, broader social factors such as education and location are important, and notes the shift from purely objective measurement to the use of indicators as 'signposts of complex issues like multi-dimensional disadvantage' (p. 5). Such indicators of access to resources may be direct (for example living standards) or indirect (for example income), and result in a shift of research focus towards outcomes. Saunders emphasises the methodological importance of this shift, from 'examining what poverty means to those who measure it, to an understanding of what poverty means to those who actually experience it' (p. 6). It requires that traditional quantitative approaches be supplemented with qualitative investigation. Research must be based on an understanding of agency, and Saunders emphasises the importance of involving communities in the research process.

Chapters Two and Three provide an overview of the conventional economic deprivation approach to poverty, beginning by comparing and contrasting Australian and OECD approaches to income measurement and then extending the scope to include other economic measures of living standards. …

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