The pressing need to redefine poverty

What is ‘poverty’? It might sound a basic question but, when we hear about x percent of people ‘living in poverty’, what does that actually mean? The policy review conducted by Frank Field last year offered a number of insights into the issues of life chances and their determinants. But it failed to address that fundamental question: what is poverty? Until we know what we are measuring, it is impossible to attempt to tackle it.

Poverty continues to preoccupy us. According to the British Social Attitude Survey, the majority view is that there is “quite a lot” of poverty in Britain today, and many expect it to increase over the next ten years. Domestic poverty featured in the manifestoes of all major parties, and keeps dozens of campaign groups busy. But given the widespread attention the topic receives, it is surprising how little we know about poverty. As I argue in my IEA research report A New Understanding of Poverty, the poverty measures employed by the government omit information and important factor.

Read the rest of the article on the Spectator Coffee House blog.

Dr Kristian Niemietz is the IEA's Head of Political Economy. Kristian studied Economics at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Universidad de Salamanca, graduating in 2007 as Diplom-Volkswirt (≈MSc in Economics). During his studies, he interned at the Central Bank of Bolivia (2004), the National Statistics Office of Paraguay (2005), and at the IEA (2006). He also studied Political Economy at King's College London, graduating in 2013 with a PhD. Kristian previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Berlin-based Institute for Free Enterprise (IUF), and taught Economics at King's College London. He is the author of the books "Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies" (2019), "Universal Healthcare Without The NHS" (2016), "Redefining The Poverty Debate" (2012) and "A New Understanding of Poverty" (2011).

1 thought on “The pressing need to redefine poverty”

  1. Posted 05/12/2011 at 13:27 | Permalink

    I feel poverty moves country to country. One cannot conclude that once a person is reduced to a certain income that they are now “living in poverty.” I feel that if someone does not have the basic human needs of food, safe drinking water, and shelter then they are in poverty. However, this depends on where one lives, many people said to be in poverty in America have all of these things. While in other parts of the world none of these basic human needs are met on a regular basis. Although both are seen as “living in poverty” the extent has much to do with where one lives. Poverty all in all has less to do with the amount of money one makes but more to do with how much a person can provide to their family with the money they have.

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