Defining And Measuring Poverty Sociology

Categories: Taxation

In this essay I intend to define poverty, explain definitions and measurements of poverty absolute and relative. I will identify groups experiencing poverty, social exclusion and discrimination. I will then discuss the New Right and Social Democrat explanations for poverty, and assess their weakness and strengths.

Poverty is about a lack of economic, social, physical, environmental, cultural and political resources that prevent people of all ages from fulfilling their potential. There is, however, not just a only single definition of poverty.

The term can be split into two views that are, absolute poverty and relative poverty. Despite the introduction of housing and education acts and other legislation to improve standards of living, poverty is still a reality. In society today there are still many who have little to sustain their everyday existence, and who survive well below the poverty line. The arguments surrounding the definition of poverty centre on the two concepts of absolute poverty and relative poverty. Absolute Poverty is the inability of a citizen to participate fully in the economic terms in the society in which he lives, also is experiencing lack of food, shelter clothing, healthcare care to survive.

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In many countries, absolute poverty is common people who face absolute poverty have short life expectancy, poor nutrition and high levels of infant mortality. Continents like, Africa, Asia, and South American are more likely to experience this type of poverty, this may occur because of a complete lack of resources, or unequal distribution of wealth.

Relative poverty is measured on poor standards of living relative to the rest of the society.

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The lack of access to many of the goods and services expected by the rest of the contemporary society. E.g. afford holidays this leads to social exclusion and damaging individuals and families in relative poverty.

Relative poverty is used in Britain because in a rich country such this, there should be certain minimum standards below, that no one should be. The British society is becoming more richer ,norms changes and the levels of income and resources that are considerate to be adequate rises , for instance if poor citizens can keep up with the growth in average incomes, they will become more excluded from the opportunities that the rest of the society enjoy. If there is a large numbers of people who fall below the minimum standards, then they are excluded from ordinary patterns. The strength of this approach is that advocate a poverty line which moves in response to changing social expectations and living standards. Peter Townsend argued that income alone is not a satisfactory measure of poverty because households may have a variety of other resources at their disposal. Townsend work was criticised from those on the right, they argued that his research measure inequality rather than poverty, because they see inequality as inevitable, they that the concept of relative poverty in meaningless.

Seebohm Rowntree devised a scale in 1901 to determine: the minimum necessities for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency .Rowntree’s measure from Stitt and Grant, 1993, explains the differences between two types of poverty. Primary Poverty are families whose total incomes were insufficient to maintain physical efficiency and Secondary Poverty are families whose incomes would have been sufficient but for wasteful activity such as poor housekeeping, drunkenness and gambling. Those who fell below this minimum level were said to be in poverty. This method of defining poverty is known as the budget standard approach, some of which are still in use today in defining poverty. It is a measurement of absolute poverty, which is the most common way in which people visualise poverty. In other words looking at what level of income is needed to provide a nutritionally adequate diet and other necessities of life. This again can be and is debated. It is purely down to personal perception and opinion upon the subject. This method provides a very clear definition, however it conceals the fact that the minimum level changes continually with time.

“There are basically three current definitions of poverty in common usage: absolute poverty, relative poverty and social exclusion. Absolute poverty is defined as the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together. Relative poverty defines income or resources in relation to the average. It is concerned with the absence of the material needs to participate fully in accepted daily life. Social exclusion is a new term used by the Government. The Prime Minister described social exclusion as “a shorthand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown”. The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.

However there are some critics say that absolute definitions of poverty have the merit of give fixed and universal definition which can be used for measuring and comparing poverty in all societies. They can also reveal changes in living standards in a society over time. Rowntree was been criticized by the fixed nature of absolute measurement. Some sociologists that support the relative definition of poverty argue that universal definitions not count since what count as poverty varies from time to time and place. They say that human needs cannot be objectively measured, based in measurement of human nutritional requirements in not possible. 2- physical needs are affected by age , sex, occupation and other social factors. 3- Necessities and essentials varies from time to time and place to place , human needs are culturally defined , reasonable standards of housing, diet, clothing in Britain are different from those in other societies and from Britain a hundreds years ago. In this ideology poverty is relative, it is measured in relation to the standards of a society and place, it is not fixed because circumstances changes over time.

The groups more likely to be in poverty are ethnic minorities, disabled, women , lone parents , older people, asylum seekers

Ethnic minorities live in low income households, twice the rate for white people. Although they are variations by ethnic groups. Unemployment rates are higher among this group, black people are more likely to be in lows paid jobs. Also are disadvantaged by the way the social security system operates. These group is more concentrated in the inner London normally they are rehoused together in group causing mini ghettos, creating isolation, fear and violence and discrimination .Ethnic minorities such as asylum seekers are discriminated by society, and other groups from ethnic minorities through religion or culture. By the government policies, being refused citizenship, receiving lower payments than other families on benefits. “Refugees could be considered by as a sub underclass”, Murray. 1994:26. I totally agree with this citation because they live below the poverty line and the minimum standards that Britain says that no one should ” Governments accept responsibility for ensuring all citizens receive a minimum income and have access to the highest possible provision in the fields of healthcare , housing education, and personal social services.”( Deacon 2000,51) Lone parents also are discriminated specially lone women with children , in these group also can be included elderly women pensioners ,women are likely to experience pay inequalities , men’s earning more, ” Blacks being labeled inferior compared to white men, women the weaker sex” Hacker, 1972,51, to tackle this type of discrimination was introduced anti -discrimination acts , such as Race Relations Act (1976, 2000 amended), Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Equal Pay Act 1970.

The risk of poverty, inequality and social exclusion is not shared equally. Some groups in society are more likely than others to find themselves in poverty. Children are at greater risk of poverty than adults in the UK and women are at greater risk than men. To investigate poverty it is necessary to look at statistics compiled from various sources. Whilst these statistics give some indication, it cannot completely show the poverty experienced by women and children. Despite compelling reasons, the importance of childhood poverty is not always recognised by policy makers. They may need a policy that addresses the shorter-term situation whist policies aimed at longer-term changes are implemented. It is therefore not good enough to say that a policy will be beneficial in the long term. Children who are growing up during that shorter-term period of lack of investment in primary health care or primary education, for example, will lose opportunities that they may not be able to regain later in life. Thus a generation may be facing to live in poverty.

The New Right view about poverty is that the welfare state is responsible for causing poverty, Marsland (1996) argue that in a democratic, capitalist society wealth is created by those who are successful in business, and by others who innovate ,have entrepreneurial ideas and start new companies, people work for them , and generate income, they say entrepreneurs are motivated by money , and the government need to support them e.g. free market. They say that taxation should be low , by minimizing the size of government and by keeping expenditure low. Cutting on the provision of state benefits for those unemployed, in a indirect perspective the welfare state cause of poverty , is because discourages the efforts of entrepreneurs to start new companies which create jobs. Established companies pay higher taxes. In a direct point of view they blame the welfare state because they provide free health, financial support for those who don’t want to work. People living in benefits increase the taxes and there is a lost of productivity. They say that just some will be successful , inequality will always occur. The welfare state and the minimum wage protect exploitation from employers

This approach was criticized because if they abolished the welfare state poverty was going to increase plus they saw poor people like lazy.

Social Democrat view about poverty is that the welfare state is related to the 1940, Crosland (1956) argues that in any society, there will be groups in poverty , thought are not their fault some may be disabled, retired, unable to work because of childcare. Or crisis in the economy and not having enough jobs. For them the welfare state is responsible for these people and have to guarantee a decent standard of living then everyone in poverty is in need. By this the welfare state eliminates poverty with income provided by the state and paid out of general taxation. However the Third way criticized the saying that they kept the same welfare state like in 1940, and was failed to respond to the growth in single parenthood, and the change of women in society, single mothers remain in poverty trap, the state benefits they lost when they start to work, outweighed the income they received, then disempowered them to work. Plus the costs of welfare state increased higher expectations on health care, housing.

However there will always exist poverty and inequality , the government will need to reform the welfare state , providing more professional courses given by the European Union , cut council tax, because I think that will make more people to going back to work. Instead of giving incentives for people to still waiting at home or in the bar waiting for the next payment.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Defining And Measuring Poverty Sociology. (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from

Defining And Measuring Poverty Sociology essay
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