India is recognized worldwide as to be the home of some the world’s poorest of people. Reduction of poverty levels has been treated as the primary goal for all the activities undertaken by the Government. In this regards, there has been a raging debate on the claim of the current government about drastic reduction in poverty levels. This tricky and controversial topic attracted my attention and I found myself at loss about whether or not to believe the Government on this. As with most issues the Government and Opposition get busy throwing brickbats at each other without bothering to explain the problem at hand to the citizens a. I decide to explore this independently.
Key to any exploration or learning is to ask the right questions. Starting at that –
What is Poverty?
How do we define Poverty?
Who is responsible for Poverty?
Who should act to reduce Poverty?
Why should we measure Poverty?
How can we measure poverty?
What steps could be taken to reduce Poverty?
What is Poverty? How to Define Poverty?
“I am poor” does this statement make any sense? In our day to day conversation most of us have used this phrase in various situations. What did it mean? Did it mean we don’t earn enough to afford what we want to have? Or did it mean what we earn was not sufficient to buy what we think we ought to have for a dignified living? Is poverty a result of what we earn or is it a result of what we can’t afford? Or is it a result of not having access to certain essential resources that assist one in earning an income that in turn allows them to afford the amenities required for a dignified living? How do we decide what we “ought to have” and what “dignified living is”? Both of these concepts being very subjective means that no two people would agree on their respective definition of “being poor”.
Some factors emerge from the above short inquiry. First that Poverty seems to have three components and one characteristic
- – Income
- – Deprivation of resources
- – Lack of dignity
- – Relativeness
It appears to be an uphill task to come to a common ground on defining
– Below what income would one be qualified as poor
– Deprivation of what resources leads to poverty
– What is dignified living
– An agreeable definition that is consistent across societies/countries
Economists and Sociologists around the world have spent many hours in taking one or two of the above points and drawing up a definition of poverty. Needless to say that each is as controversial as the other and can be proved wrong on many counts.
Who or What is Responsible for Poverty?
It is tough to understand why there is poverty. We know that resources are always limited and the fight is to find out an appropriate method of distribution of resources among all the people. There seems to be an inherent characteristic in all our social systems since time immemorial that, it always has certain segment of people relatively deprived than the others. I don’t know what to attribute this characteristic to, however it is always there. One might argue that when it is a natural outcome of every social system then why bother about it? While a convincing logical answer might be tough to find, I think that human existence and superiority of human race over other animals would be questioned if obvious disparities are not eradicated. It is a collective responsibility of all the people to fight and work towards systems that assist people to live the way one would want to.
Why should we measure Poverty?
In this regards one might ask what should one do to alleviate the situation. I think there are three important aspects. One – to find what are the absolute necessities to live a dignified life; Second – through consensus, find what percentage of people are deprived of these absolute necessities; Third – is to give the people that fall under this targeted category, a chance to decide if they indeed want to be called poor. Forcibly including people contented with their living and exposing them to unknown levels of living is, I think, a way to induce poverty where none existed. It is to deal with arguments like these that the need to measure poverty arose. Also countries those are serious about alleviating poverty and providing access to resources for the majority of their population, would like to know how many people are deprived so policies could be devised accordingly.
How can we measure Poverty?
There are many measurement methods proposed, used, reworked, discarded and continuously debated to understand what is poverty and how many people could be called poor. People have used the following parameters:
- – Income
- – Calorie Intake
- – Income and a feel if this income allows people to live the life they want to
- – Access to basic amenities
Due to subjectivity of the matter it is very tough to define in absolute terms who are and who are not poor. People might also feel insulted if one is called poor by someone. Yet to devise policies that would positively impact people suffering from adverse living conditions, there is a need to identify how many fall in this deprived category. Also there is a need to measure poverty in absolute terms.There are many global bodies such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund who have taken responsibility, for reasons best known to them, to alleviate poverty at international level. In order to allocate funds or grants or loans to countries to assist them in their respective fight against poverty, they need to know in relative terms which country is worse off than the other. Here United Nation Development Program through various research methodologies arrived at the $1.25 as the bare minimum income that is essential for a decent survival. Anyone earning below this income is considered to be living in absolute poverty. Needless to say that any poverty line is sensitive to inflation levels existing in each country.
Steps to Reduce Poverty?
Alleviating poverty is a tricky business. Firstly one must understand that alleviating poverty is not in any form similar to giving alms to beggars. Infact giving money to the poor with the view of alleviating poverty snatches away the right to dignified living. Any policy of this nature would prove to be counterproductive and detrimental in the process of poverty alleviation. Being poor is subjective and not only depends on how much one earns but also on what one aspires to have. Governments have to play a role in ensuring stable prices of essential food items and also ensure accessibility to resources (ex. Finance) that could assist people to find ways to earn more. Also in countries where there is stigma attached to people born in certain communities, access to sources of income or resources is itself very difficult task, in such cases ghetto mentality keeps one deeply rooted in the state of poverty one might want to desperately escape from. Rapid economic growth has been championed as the best way to alleviate poverty, undoubtedly it has played a positive role, however where the stigma is attached with where one is born it becomes more complicated to address the problem of poverty.