SCLY1 - Wealth and Poverty Complete Notes

1.  Different definitions and ways of measuring poverty, wealth and income.

ØPoverty: absolute and relative, material and multiple deprivation, social exclusion, subjective poverty, environmental poverty. Measurement of poverty: of relative poverty illustrated by Townsend or Mack and Lansley.


Defining Poverty.

·         Absolute poverty - also known as subsistence poverty as it is based on judgements of what minimum resources are needed for subsistence.  It is normally measured by pricing the basic necessities of life, drawing a poverty line in terms of this price, and defining those whose incomes falls below this as poor.  According to research by the United Nations over 800 million people live in a state of absolute poverty, mostly in less developed countries.


We can use it compare and contrast other societies with regard to poverty elsewhere in the world, against a common denominator. Absolute poverty is easier to measure, and therefore easier to research. Absolute poverty is seen as objective in that it measures in terms of level of income and calorific requirements of diet. Sen (1982) argues that looking at the world as a whole - there is still a need for an absolute concept of poverty linked to malnutrition. However, the search for an objective measure of poverty is impossible, no absolute criteria are available. Rowntree too had found that when drawing-up a poverty line based on health that it was impossible to exclude society's norms and customs. When the concept of absolute poverty is widened to include cultural needs it becomes even more difficult to establish an agreed poverty line. A study by Oldfield and Yu (1993) undertaken for the Child Poverty Action Group concluded that even with a basic, low-cost budget income support, scales were inadequate. That is that income support does not lift those at risk out of poverty, but simply sustains those who are poor in poverty. Absolute poverty also Ignores social needs (friendship, hobbies). It is a measure of destitution, not poverty (according to this definition, you’d have to be in danger of death to be poor!) It hides the extent of relative poverty – the numbers of people in absolute poverty are very low in the UK – but thousands of people experience relative poverty.  If sociologists use the absolute definition, then the government may think that poverty is declining and nothing needs to be done.

·         Relative Poverty - A state in which people lack the resources to enjoy the living conditions, amenities and rituals that the mass of society take for granted, such as income, housing, education, health etc.  This definition assumes that definitions of poverty are not fixed – they reflect constantly changing living standards and changing cultural expectations.  For example, poverty may even differ between different groups within the same society because different regions, age-groups etc. may have different social needs, e.g. the elderly may need access to a different set of resources to those needed by Asian women.


Allows us to think how poverty is socially constructed…


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