Tsiakalos & kongidou-definitions of poverty
Definitions of poverty
or: the strategies for combating poverty depend on the particular poverty definition
GEORGIOS TSIAKALOS & DIMITRA KONGIDOU
POVERTY 3 - 1991
In March 1990 the European Community set out a Program namely the "Model Action for the Economic and Social Integration of the Less Privileged Groups", which became widely known as "POVERTY 3". There are, already, 39 Projects being implemented in the EEC countries and having a dual target: On the one hand, combating poverty in the areas where the model Program is being imlemented and on the other, reaching sound conclusions aiming at articulating an integral policy for combating poverty in Europe.
There are many differences among these Programs both in terms of the target groups (e.g. minorities, young unemployed, one-parent families, etc.) and in terms of the environmental conditions in which these poor groups live (I.e. agricultural areas, big cities and even areas where most people are well of). However, the biggest differences are found in programs in terms of the strategies being adopted for reaching the general target.
Underlying these differences are the "apparent" views of the participating in each Program organizations and individuals, concerning the proper answer in the questions "who are the poor people? and "what is the best strategy for combating poverty?"
In our presentation we are to exhibit the answers given to the above questions from the Model Action Program "E/K.E.M." (which is carried out in Western Thessaloniki).
Who are the poor people?
Experts estimate that the number of the poor people in the E.E.C. countries amounts to 50 million - number which increases continuously as it is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the number of poor people in 1975 was 38 million, while in 1985 it was 44 million. These numbers correspond to 12.8% of the total population in 1975 and 13.9% in 1985.
But, what are the features of the so called "poor" in the European Community? The first- spontaneous- answer is that we consider poor the people that lack the income which is necessary to satisfy their basic needs for living. Nevertheless, at the opening of the Program for combating poverty in March 1990, the commissioner of the European Community Vaso Papandreou.argued that poverty is not simply a matter of income and emphasized the need to demonstrate the extent of the poverty problem - a problem which is a stuctural one and results in the social isolation of a large population of European citizens.
The difficulty in defining poverty in a positive manner constitutes a common phenomenon both in the field of politics and the academy. We do not exaggerate when saying that the literature referring to the efforts of defining and estimating poverty is greater than the one concerning the strategies for overcoming poverty.
The most usual way of determing the people who live in poverty conditions, is the one that uses their available income in relation to another income: i.e. either
a) the income considered "objectivily" necessary for living -actually this income is determined by some services-
or b) that income which is estimated as the average income for the particular geographic area
or c) finally that one considered necessary for a "human" living by the people themselves.
Definitions that are exclusively based on the income level have the advantage of explicitly classifying the people in one of the two categories:
a) people having an income below the "poverty line" -"line", which is determined by using one of the above criteria and, obviously, has a relatively arbittary character- or
b) people having an income over the "poverty line".
This classification is useful when comparing the conditions that prevail in various areas of a country, as well as when describing the development of poverty. Nevertheless, this classification is quite problematic, when used as a basis for the exertion of social policy.
The poverty line
Obviously, the adequacy of the income either of an individual or of a family depends on many factors, like the number of the individuals that depend on this income, the existence of property, the kind of living that has been opted for in the context of planning one's life etc. Thus, a family consisted of 4 people, that is a working mother, her two children-one of who is a child with special needs- and her invalid mother,
paying a rent and having an income amounting 100.000 dr., is evidently in a much more difficult situation than a family also consisted of 4 people, a husband, a wife and two children, having their own house or flat and an income of only 70.000 dr. (that is a lower than average income in Greece).
Similar examples abound and they all point out the difficulty of, if not the weakness in, accurately defining the poverty line.
Numerous are the attempts to estimate accurately the income which is necessary for living. While in their typical form these attempts were confined to determining the kind and the quantity of the food required for living, recently they are extended to include other necessities like clothing.
But even in their simpler form, i.e. the attempts referring only to food, the difficulties of determing that income are apparent: food habits and preferences differ in society itself, as well in a particular family; yet, these differences do not depend on the knowledge of an "ideal dietary menu", but on the habits, preferences, wishes, religious rules and quite frequently on personal dislike, as well as on biologically predetermined dislikes towards specific kinds of food.
The difficulties become far greater when other needs, i.e. needs related to the overall development of children (school, training in music and arts, entertainment, etc.) are included in ήςιο επιβέφσθχ
Thus, one can easily notice that the amount of money corresponding to the "poverty line", even deflated, increases as the time passes and this is a result of the fact that increasingly more goods are labelled as necessary. So, groups of people that are being recently defined as poor, might not have been considered as belonging to this category in past times.
Even the models in which there has been an attempt to take into account all the particularities in estimating the income line like the number of dependent persons in a family, the existence or lack of property, the inflation, etc. cannot fully meet all these peculiarities.
Nevertheless, irrespectively of the reservations and objections on the technicalities of defining a particular poverty line
-objections that become sharpened as more complex models emerge-their?
The relative poverty
When a certain income is used to characterize the poverty line, then one can notice that for the financially developed countries there is a decrease of poverty as such during the last decades. And if one attempts to compare this with the income of the people of the third world countries, then it is might be possible to consider that the "poor" people of the financially developed countries are in better situation than the middle class people of the financially less developed countries.
However, the people themselves do not compare, their situation in their everyday life with that one of the last decades or with that of the people of other countries.
The "image of poor people and poverty" is constructed by the presence of lack of the goods that exist in the society in which people live and not in another society or another country. For this reason a method of determining the poverty line has been put forward and increasingly used, referring to the income which is considered "normal" in that particular society.
The most usual approach in this context is the one where the poverty line is defined as the income which is half the average income of the population in the particular country. Thus, people earning less income than this are considered poor people, while he who earns a higher than half of the average income is not considered to fall in this category.
Nevertheless, there are even reservations referring to this kind of approach of defending the poor people.
At first there are reservations that have to do with technicalities- e.g. the obvious dependency on the existence of reliable statistical data, which are rarely found in many countries, especially when referred to matters that are related to the personal income. Secondly, there are reservations that concern the weakness of reaching an overall estimation of the specific needs that the income has (e.g. the existence or lack of other property, the number of dependent on that income persons, specific needs that need to be satisfied, etc.) " Finally, the most significant reservations to this approach concern the "paradox" that people are considered to have fallen in the poverty condition, while their income and therefore ability to obtain goods have been increased.
The latest reservations are of special importance in relation to the estimation of the extent of poverty in the European Communities, particularly when related to the integrated labour market. It is obvious that the number of poor people determined by this approach indicates rather the existing differences concerning the income line in any state than the existence of people without having the basics for living. Consequently, it is rather problematic that, in this way, it might be considered that there's a higher percentage of poor people in a rich country like Germany than in a particularly poor country like Albany.
In this case obviously the indicator neither describes the economic conditions that objectively prevail in the two countries nor the subjective estimations of their inhabitants.
Taking into account these reservations one might consider that this indicator has a particular value in economically developed countries; indicating the inequalities prevailing in the income distribution in a society, the poverty indicator points out the procedures of social isolation and inequality, which , in many cases result in a poverty of "traditional form.
Actually the last example, in other words the wealness to use the poverty indicator as a means of comparing population of various countries, shows, at the same time, the
poverty isn't a phenomenon that can be defined in exclusively economic terms which are additionally objectively countable.
However what seems to be important is what is interpreted by people as poverty line- or more precisely as the set of the basies for living, the lack of one constituting poverty situation-which apparently is different in single society. This is the reason why there have been remarkable attempts to determine the poverty line using as a criterion the most representative view about poverty prevailing in the particular society. Therefore it might be natural that things like a TV, a fridge, a cooker are considered as luxury goods for the people in most of the countries.
Consequently lack of these goods doesn't constitute a poverty situation, while it does in the economically developed countries like the ones in the European Communities. In the latter, the above mentioned goods are considered as necessary lack of which-if due to inability of acquiring them-verifies a poverty situation.
Defining poverty in this way is difficult because of the fact that people belonging to different social groups with a different income are expected to have different estimations.
It is also a fact that these estimations are not essentially different though people tend to define the poverty line according to their income i.e. the higher their income is the higher they define the poverty line.
Defining poverty in a model action. It is obvious that the ways in which poverty is defined (exact determination of the income level which is considered to be basic for living, determination of the average income level and possessing goods considered necessary in a certain society) are not totally undoubted as to methodology, though they are quite helpful in some cases such as observing the development of the phenomenon which is defined as poverty.
However the weakness of finding a commonly acceptable definition of the poverty phenomenon does not eliminate the existence of poor people; That is, people who the necessary goods either for their survival or for their participating in social and cultural activities of their extended social environment or do not have and do not get what is required for the integrated development of their personality and hence for their full participation in the society in which they live.
In our attempt to find out "who are the poor "we face an interesting and particularly rare phenomenon. It is usually the social scientists who define a phenomenon theoretically, and it is the social reality that refutes it or at least conceals it; When poverty is concerned however, just the opposite happens. It is the social scientists-alongside the politicians-who are unable to define the phenomenon but it is the social reality, the way millions of people experience and form it that emphasizes its existence, imposes its naming and forces owe to deal with it.
Owe to the above mentioned fact is the essential advantage of projects related to programmes in which research and intervention not only differ as to the time of their occurence but mainly as to the staff that carries out the research and the staff that carries out the intervention.
The social reality surrounding a project of action in the identification of the set of factors that signal poverty on the one hand, and allows the imposed different estimation of the extent that contributes to the certain poverty situation.
Integrated intervention can be only achieved through complete knowledge of all the dimensions and the factors that led to the particular poverty situation, as well as their relationships among them. And this integrated intervention having either successful or unsuccessful results provides us with the possibility of confirming (help us to confirm) a theoretical poverty model.
Definition in the context of POVERTY 3. As far as POVERTY 3 is concerned, it is usually said that "poverty" is constitutes a multi-dimensional phenomenon whose description consequently requires a multi-dimensional approach and its overcoming requires an integrated approach.
It is obvious that if a complicated and multi-dimensional social phenomenon is to be understood, by those who do not directly experiece it, thi phenomenon is necessary to be analysed by means of a catecory and concept system (although there are apparent risks of simplification included in such an analysis).
The choice of this category and concept system is not arbitrary, particularly when the required understanding of the phenomenon doesn't constitute a goal itself but a means for combating it (in other words, in cases where the "social phenomenon" is considered as a "social problem"). In these cases the category and concept system is opted for on the assumption that it can describe the phenomenon in way that provide chances for intervention.
The "multi-dimensional" phenomenon with the numerous and interdependent dimensions is raised-or transformed-into a sociological model of the phenomenon with much fewer dimensions than the ones existing in reality.
The choice of the certain dimensions used for the model construction, determines tha nature of the certain strategies on the basis of the concept used for the exact their determination ("economic dimension", social dimension" etc).
The latter are not different from those who are already known and tried in the fields where these concepts come from (this way the experience in every single field affects the new strategy and constitutes a part of it).
Based on the above, the two basic concepts of POVERTY-3, the "multi-dimensional approach" and the "intergrated approach" are of a particular importance.
"A multi-dimensional approach" presupposes understanding poverty as a complex phenomenon and analysing it in simpler known phenomena characterizing different fields of the human being.
"An intergrated account" implies facing poverty with a variety of means originating from various fields at human activities (in order words" an integrated account" is an accumulative approach" in which the existing risk of the individual measures being
fragmented is eliminated, through either the preplanned intermingling of activities in a unique intervention or the chosen intercompletion of the individual activities).
The specific planning of E/KEM is based on the above arguments concerning the possibilities and the approaches of intervention aiming at combating and preventing social problems.
If owe is to create a model out of E/KEM strategies, the closest model is apparently the one that describes welfare and poverty in terms of both the quantity of the necessary financial resources for survival and b) the extent to which public and social goods are taken up (e.g. education, health service, entertainment, participation in public affairs etc).
Certainly taking up public and social goods usually constitutes the requirements for attaining sufficient financial resources- e.g. successful participation in the educational and health system usually constitutes the requirements for attaining an adequate income on the owe hand, while on the other lack of them often constitutes the accompanyning feature or even the cause of poverty.
Nevertheless, even if this is not the case the exclusion of people from the distribution of public and social goods offered in important fields of the human existence- fields like employment, education, health, feature or even the cause of poverty.
Nevertheless, even if this is not the case , the exclusion of people from the distribution of public and social goods offered in important fields of the human existence- fields like employment education, health, entertainment, social relations, cultural events etc -, should be considered as poverty situation itself. This exclusion should be considered a poverty situation because:
a) it reduces the abilities of directly affected people to organize their own life, below the socially acceptable limits.
b) it deprires affected people of goods of great value (non participation in education as well as not visiting either the sponsored theatre or the sponsored sports event basically means non participation in taking up goods and
c) it results in lack of perspective in life.
Being based on the above, when we refer to the "poor" of West Salonica.(specifically to the poor people of Eleftherio/Kordelio, Evosmos and Menemeni Municipalities) we refer to people characterized either by the lack of the basics for living or by their exclusion from taking up public and social goods.
Our action, that is research and intervention in this area, has shown that these two states of poverty go along together more frequently than the theory predicts.
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