Universal in reach and spanning millennia, poverty has been a problem of mankind for as long as the latter has existed. However, a final definition for it has yet to be agreed upon. According to Cambridge Dictionaries, an appropriate poverty definition is “the condition of being poor”; but this hardly seems sufficient for a multi-faceted obstacle to global development such as this one. It becomes evident, upon further inspection, that a definition for “poor” is necessary to establish a poverty definition; and this is where the discrepancies arise. What exactly constitutes being poor?
The classification of an individual, household or country as poor or non-poor depends on the indicator used to study the subject. With poverty being a concept that depends on the definition of poor, each indicator has a different perception of it; and hence tackles it using an unique approach. Furthermore, standardized views on poverty product of statistical analyses differ from those of the poor themselves; which only serves to justify the existence of multiple definitions for it. Taking this into consideration, the capability approach to identifying the poor and hence measuring poverty is, perhaps, the most complete in today’s world.
Poverty Definition: Using the Capability Approach
Erenstein et al (2002) define it as an approach that “rejects monetary income as its measure of well-being and recognizes poverty as a multidimensional phenomenon rather than just a lack of income and food”. This does not take away from the value of data collected on monetary income; rather, it allows a more in-depth study of the problem by acknowledging its complexity. Consequently; the unidimensional model where average daily consumption is the sole indicator for determining poverty gives way for quality of life to be taken into account as an important contributing factor. This allows issues such as life expectancy and access to healthcare; as well as education and basic services (electricity, sanitation and clean drinking water) to enter the dialogue. As a result, it provides the global community with a better understanding of poverty and a clearer, more comprehensive definition for it.
In this sense, an effective poverty definition is: “the failure to meet the minimum adequate level required to satisfy certain vital functions (Erenstein et al; 2002); such as the ones mentioned in the paragraph above. This poverty definition can easily contain the ones resultant from the monetary, social inclusion and participatory approaches; all of which are common in literature regarding this matter. It also serves as a bridge between the statistical analyses on poverty and how the poor experience it. This is especially helpful in the development of more effective poverty elimination policies; as itt tackles the issue as a whole and not in segments. Therefore, it is inclusive of groups of people living in poverty who do not fit the criteria used by determined indicators.