Poverty as Social Deprivation: A Survey

Article excerpt

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. …


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