What is poverty?

This is going to be the first of hopefully a long series looking at poverty and how to alleviate it. Also, I plan to add to it quite a lot, if I can.

As always, it’s a good idea to start by defining what it is you’re talking about. With such a wide-ranging and complex issue, it’s common for different people to have different basic definitions.

To me, poverty isn’t something as straightforward as not having money, or not having enough money. While that often (perhaps even usually) contributes, it’s not the single defining factor. For the sake of defining it in a single sentence, poverty is, to me, a lack of access to the services, social supports, and in some cases goods, that in any particular place would be identified as instrumental to sustaining a reasonable standard of living.

I generally disagree, due to this definition, with the compartmentalisation of ‘absolute poverty’ against ‘relative poverty’. Many people believe that poverty is a lack of money, which lends itself to saying people starving in far away countries are in poverty, while the lowest classes of society in rich countries are only in relative poverty, which, to many people, doesn’t count as poverty. My definition exposes that as flawed, because, while having little money is infinitely more wealthy than having no money, the definition of a reasonable standard of living is different for the two countries, putting both cases ‘in poverty’, regardless of how much money each has. The importance of this distinction is made clear when other factors are brought into account, as it is clear that people from either background can be facing the same struggles, despite differing situations with regard to money.

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