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Poverty Analysis - Varying Perspectives

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Poverty Analysis – Varying Perspectives

1. Introduction - Need for Analyzing/ Understanding Poverty

All of us have some perception and understanding of the poor (and poverty). However, such perceptions may have different connotations for each one of us based on our personal experiences, understanding and knowledge. We need to develop a conceptual understanding of poverty and related aspects because:

a. Mostly we perceive that we know the problems of the poor and take these for granted. However, it is understanding the poor that helps us to learn who they are, their problems and struggles and their aspirations to security, dignity and an effective role in social life.

b. Analyzing rural poverty is not just about economics but also about social relations. More often than not, we look at only a few aspects and miss out on numerous others. Some questions that always need to be asked: Whose livelihoods? What are social relations (cultural, political, and institutional factors) that affect these relationships? Who owns what? Who does what? Who gets what? What do they do with it?

c. Poor people’s perspective of poverty stretches much beyond material poverty. Such a perspective has multiple interlocking dimensions that combine to create powerlessness, vulnerability, and lack of security, lack of freedom and choices of action.

2. Three Perspectives on Poverty

Poverty can be analyzed using different perspectives; however, we shall examine three perspectives on poverty. There are many similarities between the three analytical systems. Also, there is an on-going debate about the various perspectives of poverty. These debates pertain to aspects such as qualifying: Who are the poor? What constitutes basic needs? What are the ways to measure poverty? Criticism has mostly focused around the three basic perspectives that we will examine. Therefore, understanding these is important for us. As fresh approaches emerge and new research models are proposed, it would be easy for us to relate these to the three dimensions that we shall discuss.

We should not get caught up with terms and jargons some of which we shall examine. One purpose of the present course in general, is the demystification of such terms, concepts and frameworks.

Essentially what we are interested in is examining these to the extent where the various systems allow us to view poverty as a human condition and does not restrict us to defining it as the absence of one or other of a list of assets or resources. The perspectives of our examination include:

- Income perspective

- Basic needs perspective

- Capability perspective

2.1 Income Perspective

According to income perspective (also called consumption perspective), a person is poor if his income level is below a defined poverty line. Poverty line is determined using different approaches. A poverty line set at $ 1 a day per person is used by the World Bank for international comparison.

Developing countries have adopted income poverty lines using the food poverty method. The main approaches generally included to measure poverty by this method are based on food nutrient or calorie intake. If the actual calorie intake is less than or equal to the specified minimum, the persons belonging to such a category are poor. This approach estimates the cost of the nutritionally adequate diet and compares it with the actual income of the individual. In most approaches, it considers only food items and cost of diet. Other expenditures are completely ignored. Poor households are defined as those with per capita energy intake less than the standard per capita energy requirement. The FAO standards lay down 2,122 calories per capita per day as energy requirement for a healthy diet.

Poverty line is sometimes determined by the standard income-expenditure comparison of an average household /individual. The total income is compared with the total expenditure on essential needs, and if the later is more, a poverty situation is said to exist.

Ultra poverty is said to occur when a household cannot meet 80% of the minimum calorie requirements, even when using 80% of its income to buy food.

Although income is an important determinant of poverty, it is only gives a partial picture of the numerous ways in which human beings can be affected. For example, a person’s income may show him/her to be above the poverty line, but he/she may be excluded from the process of participation in the community.

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