Sociology - Wealth, Poverty and Work - Essay on Problems of Defining and Measuring Poverty.

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Examine the problems of defining and measuring poverty (20).

Absolute poverty is the minimum line of necessities for the sustainment of human life. Rowntree differentiated between primary poverty and secondary poverty. Primary poverty is where families lack things that we need to sustain life, like food shelter and clothing. Secondary poverty is where families have the necessities but are still in poverty as they spend their money on thing that are not essential like tobacco and alcohol. Absolute poverty is the biological basis of poverty, other definitions include Gordon and Townsend et al’s seven basic needs; Clean water, Sanitation, Shelter, Education, Information, Food, and Health. Essentially if you do not have these seven basic needs then you are poor. An example of how to measure absolute poverty would be the proportion of the population eating less than is needed to sustain life (2000-2500 calories a day).

As an alternative, Relative poverty is an addition to the biological needs of absolute poverty and includes cultural needs. In other words in more affluent societies biological needs aren’t the only line of poverty the line in Townsend’s view is whether members of that society can participate fully in the social and cultural societies in which they live. It is relative poverty as the definitions are dependant on what is normal and acceptable in a given society. One relative measurement would be to compare the total wealth of the poorest one-third of the population with the total wealth of the richest 1% of the population.

Therefore based on those definitions the difference between the two is biological and cultural; absolute poverty is the ultimate biological line which everyone has to be above to stay out of poverty; relative is dependant on the norms of the society.

A strength of absolute poverty would be that it is a standard, and that it fits everyone in the world. In other words as we are all human we all have very basic needs and these are the same for everybody regardless of ethnicity or gender. For example, with reference to Gordon and Townsend’s seven basic needs, we all need clean water otherwise we could get diseases, and with that we need sanitation, and shelter to rest in and keep away from bad weather. Education is a basic need that not everybody in the world receives and it is a need as humans need to have basic understanding to gain work and earn an income. Food and health are both necessities for life for all humans. Overall the strength is that the measurement of absolute poverty is a standard and meets the needs of all humans. A consequence on the measurement of absolute poverty would be a good outcome as the measurement is standardised and therefore fair for everyone.

A weakness of absolute poverty however is that because of historical and cultural differences in standard of living it makes it hard to use the ‘biological testing’ in a meaningful way. In other words some countries have high standards


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