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Defining poverty

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					Defining poverty

        Summary
        notes
Operationalisation

   Poverty is a difficult concept to operationalise.

   It has a political implications - governments are
    supposed to deal with it.

   It has social implications - poverty can be a
    source of shame and low status for individuals.
Absolute poverty

 Thisis based on a measurement of
 the absolute minimum a person
 requires for biological survival:
  – Food
  – Water
  – Warmth and shelter
  – Clothing
Deprivation

   People who lack the means of survival are
    defined as poor.

   Seebohm Rowntree used absolute definitions
    of poverty in his studies of the poor in York.

   This definition is typical of early studies of
    poverty.
Discussion point
                      Keith Joseph, 1976,
                       Conservative politician said,
                       „There is very little poverty in
                       Britain today‟, using an
                       absolute measurement of
                       poverty.

                      How far can you agree with
                       this statement?

                      Who might you consider to be
                       absolutely poor in Britain?
Problems …

 Absolute definitions still tend to be
  subjective about the minimum
  requirements needed for life.
 We need things for mental health for
  instance … books, tv, pets
 Standards of acceptable health and food
  quality change over time.
Relative poverty
   Relative poverty is when people are compared to those around
    them, or to what others might reasonably be expected to afford.
   It can include lack of:
      – Educational opportunity
      – Material possessions
      – Health care
      – Good quality housing
      – Civil Rights
      – Social opportunity
Subjective poverty
   This is a little used concept, but is based on the notion of
    felt poverty.
   People feel poor if those around them have more than they
    do.
   The people against whom one measures oneself are known
    as the reference group.
   In the past, people may have been deprived, but not felt
    poor because they were unaware of what others have.

   Could television have a role in creating subjective poverty?
Uses of such definitions

 Poverty  is a social construction and
  so this reflects general standards of
  living and expectation.

   helps us to understand broader
 It
  debates such as social exclusion.
    Problems with such definitions

   This is not easy for people to understand, because
    most people actually think in terms of absolute
    poverty.
   Relative definitions tend to measure inequality rather
    than poverty.
   It is difficult to arrive at a fair definition of poverty,
    either high enough or low enough.
   How often should such definitions be up-dated?
Peter Townsend

   Be certain that you mention this
    man‟s name in your answers.

   He has been the leading British
    researcher in the field for many
    years.

   Find out more by visiting
    www.bris.ac.uk/poverty/
Abel- Smith and Townsend (1965)

 Introduced concepts of relative
 poverty to the study of poverty in
 Britain.

 Theybased their measure on
 Social Security payments.
Peter Townsend (1979)

   He drew up a list of indicators of deprivation
    and then chose the 12 most reliable he
    considered to indicate deprivation.
   These included: access to holidays, ability to
    offer food to friends, lack of parties for children,
    lack of fresh meat, lack of cooked breakfast.
   People on lower incomes tend to experience
    significant deprivation.
Piachaud (1981)

   He points out that Townsend‟s deprivation
    index includes people who make lifestyle
    choices (vegetarians?)
   He claims that not having a fridge for instance
    is more significant than not having meat.
   This suggests that Townsend‟s index is not as
    scientific as it claims.
Mack and Lansley (1985)

   Used a method of deciding on a list of
    essentials for living and found 7.5 million
    people were living in poverty in UK. This list
    consisted of 22 items including damp free
    home and outings for children.

   Rising living standards meant that 32 items
    were used in a repeat study in 1990.
Falkingham and Hills (1995)

   Measure poverty in terms of the ability to live a
    life characterised by active participation in
    society and a sense of security.

   This is known as capability poverty.

   This is related to notions of social exclusion
Social Indicators

   Indicators are social symptoms of poverty
    –   Long term benefit receipt
    –   Low birth weight
    –   Low educational attainment
    –   Unemployment
    –   Suicide
    –   Non-participation in politics
Howarth et al.
   Using a social indicators approach, Howarth et al
    discovered that poverty and disadvantage is
    concentrated into distinct community areas.
   Deprivation is linked to social class with people in the
    two lowest indicators of class experiencing higher rates
    of
    –   Young male suicides
    –   Underweight births
    –   Concentration into specific schools
    –   Likelihood of premature motherhood
    –   Depression and mental illness
    –   Victimhood
Inequality approaches
   We live in a culture where many people experience
    very high standards of living.
   Some people have high levels of income and of
    spending.
   This approach looks at public policy and uses data
    gathered by government agencies to analyse and
    comment on social change.
   Goodman, Johnson and Webb use this approach to
    point out that levels of inequality are rising in modern
    Britain.
    Government definition
   The Government bases its analysis on the Family Expenditure
    Survey to estimate the number of people with household
    incomes in a fraction of national averages.
   One of the most commonly used definitions of poverty is those
    who have less than 50% of the average national income. This
    measure is used cross-nationally.
   Benefits tend to offer an income very close to 50% of national
    average incomes so if the poverty line was drawn lower, the
    percentage of those in poverty would be significantly higher
   In Britain, 20% of the population has an income below the
    government definition of poverty.
Social Exclusion
   This is a recent concept, used by the government in
    place of poverty.
      “Social exclusion is something that can happen to anyone. But some
      people are significantly more at risk than others. Research has found
      that people with certain backgrounds and experiences are
      disproportionately likely to suffer social exclusion. The key risk-factors
      include: low income; family conflict; being in care; school problems;
      being an ex-prisoner; being from an ethnic minority; living in a
      deprived neighbourhood in urban and rural areas; mental health
      problems, age and disability.”

        Source: Preventing social exclusion: report by the Social Exclusion
          Unit. Cabinet Office, 2001, p11.
General conclusions

   Most definitions of poverty are arbitrary and
    relative, even if they are based on statistical
    analyses.
   Most definitions of poverty are drawn at a low
    level.
   Many people are clustered on or near poverty
    lines, so slight changes in definition can
    remove or add people to the lists of those who
    are poor.
Moral views of poverty
                      Relative definition

We should all be        Some people should
equally well off.       be better off, they
                        work harder
Egalitarian view                            Elitist view




We should be equal      People who are poor
but no one needs to     are defective morally
have more than they     and intellectually.
need.
                      Absolute definition
Questions

   Why is important to have an adequate
    definition of poverty?
   What is it that can make the definition of
    poverty a source of political debate?
   What moral questions are raised by the
    existence of poverty in our society?
   Why should we care about poverty in Britain?
The End

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