Poverty is deprivation based on lack of material resources. The concept is value-based and political. Hence its definition, causes and remedies (and the possibility of remedies) are highly contentious.
Primary and secondary poverty
The use of the terms primary and secondary poverty dates back to Seebohm Rowntree, who conducted the second British survey to calculate the extent of poverty. This was carried out in York and was published in 1899. He defined primary poverty as having insufficient income to “obtain the minimum necessaries for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency”. In secondary poverty, the income “would be sufficient for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency were it not that some portion of it is absorbed by some other expenditure.” Even with these rigorous criteria he found that 9.9% of the population was in primary poverty and a further 17.9% in secondary.
Absolute and comparative poverty
More recent definitions tend to use the terms absolute and comparative poverty. Absolute is in line with Rowntree's primary poverty, but comparative poverty is usually expressed in terms of ability to play a part in the society in which a person lives. Comparative poverty will thus vary from one country to another. The difficulty of definition is illustrated by the fact that a recession can actually reduce "poverty".
United Nations definitions
In 1995 the United Nations' World Summit on Social Development, held in Copenhagen, adopted definitions of absolute poverty and overall poverty.
Absolute poverty was defined as a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.
Overall poverty was said to take various forms, including: lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterised by lack of participation in decision making and in civil, social and cultural life. It occurs in all countries: as mass poverty in many developing countries, pockets of poverty amid wealth in developed countries, loss of livelihoods as a result of economic recession, sudden poverty as a result of disaster or conflict, the poverty of low-wage workers, and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family support systems, social institutions and safety nets.
- ↑ Alcock, P. Understanding poverty. Macmillan. 1997. ch 1.
- ↑ Harris, B. The origins of the British welfare state. Palgrave Macmillan. 2004. Also, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- ↑ Alcock, Pt II