It strikes me that we may need to rewind the clock and recapture something a bit simpler. It might help some members of the political elite talk more sense.
There is a continuing academic debate over how to measure poverty. Broadly speaking, thinking on poverty has moved away from using absolute poverty measures – such as the $/day that has been frequently used to assess the extent of global poverty. Emphasis is now much more on the use of relative poverty measures, such as those who fall below 60% of median income, or consensual measures, which, crudely speaking, identify what constitutes an acceptable standard of living within a particular society and work backwards to the level of resources needed to achieve it. Relative and consensual measures of poverty get at an important additional dimension to the problem of poverty – it is not only that lack of income leaves people hungry or cold but the absence of income also frustrates meaningful social participation.
Those on the political Right tend to favour a return to absolute measures of poverty. It is only when using an absolute measure that it is possible to declare poverty to have been banished or to deny the existence of poverty, as it was so publicly attempted by the Thatcher government.
While that move was criticised as statistical shenanigans, there may be a need to reintegrate a concern with absolute poverty into the debate. For two reasons. Continue Reading →