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March 28, 2007


Chris Williams

Surely the worst thing about the quote is the bit that goes "whether everyone enjoys equality of opportunity. That surely is the definition of true poverty."

Well, no, it isn't. Saying that "The true definition of black ought to be white, so it is" doesn't make black white. Are they stupid, lazy, or merely sublimely contemptuous of their readership?


"The definition of relative poverty is such that it can be eradicated almost overnight": but then the poverty pimps would change the definition.

Roger Thornhill

What about people who purposefully bring children into poverty? What about those who offer inducements (money, accommodation) to people to do that?

The biggest poverty is one of ambition IMO.

Secular Conservative

The Secular Conservative begins his list of seven principles of conservatism:

#1 Equality of opportunity

Civil liberties must be upheld to the degree that equal opportunity is provided to everyone

In a free society, equality for all is difficult to achieve except in the sense of equality of opportunity; equality of outcome cannot be achieved. The best that we can hope for is a just and free society where some evils and suffering will inevitably exist. Equality of opportunity does not guarantee success; individuals must accept responsibility for their own success and failure.

It is wrong to restrict the freedom of some to provide equality of outcome to others. The principle of equality should not impinge on freedom; freedom is more important than equality. Interference by government will limit the potential of the individual; rational individuals know their own best interests. The government’s role is to create equality of opportunity by eliminating restrictions, not by creating new restrictions that favor those deemed to have less opportunity.

Nigel Sedgwick

A more useful criticism of the concept of relative poverty is that doubling the household income of every house in the country makes no difference to the number of households judged subject to said relative poverty. Likewise halving all household incomes.

The complaint, such as it is, seems to be against non-low-side-short-tailed distributions of income.

I ask if this is a useful definition of poverty, or just of a seemingly justified envy? And worse: envy expressed, more frequently than not, by those not themselves suffering the "poverty".

Best regards

Ms Baroque

Hi there,

Erm, the key word here is "relative". If you raised the average household income, the level at which 60% sits would rise - but by the principle of relative poverty, everyone below it would still be "poor", relative to the median.

On an absolute standard of poverty - where a baseline needed to live on is established and everyone below it deemed "poor" - poverty (that is household incomes below that level) could possibly be eradicated by such a move.

just the messenger

The example of relative poverty that you mention out (poverty is <60% of median income) is not vulnerable to the criticism that the Difference points out. This is because you can raise everyone to 61% of median income without affecting the median income level.

The problem is with careless people (typically journalists?) who tend to talk about poverty as the bottom quartile or the bottom 10%, as if we could somehow have less than 10% of people in the bottom 10%. I don't think that serious poverty experts fall prey to this Lake Wobegon mentality, so the Difference is really making a straw man argument here.

Dr Dan H.

The basic problem here is that we use the definition of relative poverty at all; we shouldn't be doing.

Poverty should be defined by a set of objective, measurable things, such having enough money to provide adequate nutrition, healthcare and education for all people.

Healthcare should be limited to preservation of life, limited mental healthcare and limited dentistry, not optimal dentistry, healthcare and so on.

These definitions would adequately describe poverty as experienced by the bulk of the world's population, and would then make it abundantly clear that the overwhelming majority of the UK's population are not living in poverty at all and never have been.

As this definition would completely kill off a profitable industry, make thousands of useless penpushers and paper-shufflers redundant and force hundreds of petty bureaucrats to find more honest employment now that the problem they have laboured on for so long demonstrably doesn't exist, it will never be adopted.



ok, it may not be a huge percentage of people, but its still a huge number and a serious problem

Matt Munro

In what way is it a serious problem ? If you are poor in this country you get as a minimum:

Subsidised/free housing
Free healthcare
Free Education

The welfare state endures that no one need starve, no one need die of preventable illness, no one goes without drinkable water, no one need leave school unable to read or write. To many of the world's genuine poor that level of free public service is inconceivable and would not fit their definition of poverty.

And I'm not a statistician, but even I can understand that, however you measure it, someone will always have to be in the bottom 10%, even if that just meant being the poorest multi millionaire in the country. If you measure poverty relatively it becomes perpetual and incurable.

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