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Poverty reduction has become a collective goal of the global community and is an important measure of development for a country; this has made it essential to understand exactly what it is. It is important to define poverty accurately as the definition used will influence the way policies addressing poverty are shaped and set the standards that countries use to gauge the acceptability (or unacceptability) of incomes and living conditions of the poor in the society (Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation n.d.,1). The different approaches have different implications for policy and targeting as they identify different persons as being poor. Poverty is a multifaceted phenomenon and there are a range of definitions and perspectives about what it is and how to tackle it. In order to effectively study poverty a comprehensive understanding must be gained by examining the various definitions and perspectives used to describe it. These are outlined below (UNDP International Poverty Centre 2006,10).
Historically, poverty has been defined using a monetary approach, using income or consumption levels. Absolute definitions of poverty are based on income in relation to a specific living standard or minimum income level. Income poverty classifies households as poor when their income falls below the established poverty line and they cannot obtain the minimum necessities appropriate to their country (Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation n.d.,1; UNDP International Poverty Centre 2006,6). The poverty line is an established threshold reflecting the minimum income needed to gain the necessities determined by using the concept of a basket of goods required to survive and achieve satisfaction (Institute for Research on Poverty 2019).
The basic needs approach involves the minimum consumption needs of a household and considers both material needs and facilities and services required by individuals. Basic needs are defined as minimum quantities of such things as food, clothing, shelter as well as essential services such as water and sanitation, access to basic education and health services, security to prevent ill health, or under and unemployment, and cultural facilities. Focus is placed on the social needs and well-being of persons living in poverty. Amartya Sen’s capability approach rejects monetary income as its measure of well-being and instead focuses on what is required to live a ‘valued life’ as well as outcomes rather than inputs so that well-being can be reflected. The three core elements are functionings, capability and freedom.
Functionings are the various things a person achieves to do or be; Capability is the set of valuable functionings a person is able to effectively access and Freedom is the ability to choose and prioritise different combinations of functionings. It focuses on deprivation in capabilities, which is the result of lack of opportunities, i.e. society’s actions that denies people access to the means to develop or maintain essential human capabilities (Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation n.d.,3; UNDP International Poverty Centre 2006,11). Under this approach poverty is defined as the failure to achieve certain basic capabilities, including the ability to satisfy certain important functioning up to certain minimally adequate levels. Essentially, poverty is a “denial of choices and opportunities for living a tolerable life” (Al Mahmud Titumir and Mustafizur Rahman, 2013,4-5).
Social exclusion involves the processes of marginalization and deprivation that can arise when persons are unable to participate in society and gain benefits from this participation because they lack the access to opportunities (UNDP International Poverty Centre 2006, 11). This approach focuses on the ways in which people are deprived and the processes and dynamics which allow deprivation to arise and persist. Poverty is a function of one’s relationship with the broader society regarding the level of integration in the society and it’s customs, traditions and activities. Being a member of a certain social group leaves persons excluded and denied the opportunity to attain economic resources or capability. The issue of distribution arises as all do not have access to what the society has to offer and it is suggested that the deprived cannot improve unless there is some redistribution of opportunities and outcomes (Al Mahmud Titumir and Mustafizur Rahman, 2013,6-7).
In addition to the different approaches of identifying poverty there are many different types of poverty. Absolute poverty focuses on the attainment of socially acceptable levels of food and non-food items. It occurs when one is unable to attain the minimum provision deemed acceptable i.e. it is when households cannot meet basic living standards. Relative poverty is based on a estimation from comparison with what another group or individual possess; it is also used as an indicator of exclusion of normal activities of the average citizen in a country. Chronic Poverty involves extended durations of poverty (five years or more). It refers to people who remain poor for most of their life who may even pass their poverty on to subsequent generations. Generational poverty occurs in families where at least two generations have been born into poverty. Families living in this type of poverty are not equipped with the tools to move out of their situations (Cambridge Foster Mallalieu n.d., 10). Situational poverty is poverty caused by a sudden event, crisis or loss and is often temporary. Events causing situational poverty include environmental disasters, divorce, or severe health problems (Jensen 2019).
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