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Poverty Tasks: Define poverty. Discuss the problem regarding poverty

This piece firstly will seek to define poverty. This will be followed by an examination of the problems of a culture of poverty. Thirdly, in this context will be discussed the problems in tackling poverty.

The United Nations definition of poverty is based upon; lack of participation in decision making, violation of human dignity, powerlessness and susceptibility to violence. The problem with this, as identified by Ruth Lister, is that these problems could as equally be caused by being black in a white dominated society, living in a totalitarian state or living in a state of war. Amartya Sen has defined Capabilities and Functioning's as two key aspects of defining poverty. Functioning is what a person can manage, such as nourishment. Capabilities are what a person can be. This definition sees income as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Following a Marxian line, that money's power makes it more than a means to an end; Booth and Rowntree have examined the modern definition of relative poverty. The European Commission used this as basis for the definition, that poverty is exclusion from a minimum community level in member states. Polly Toynbee's definition influence's both major political parties. Her definition used the metaphor of the caravan, and she questioned if a caravan passed a desert how far did those at the back have to fall behind before they were no longer part of the caravan. This is adopted in England where the definition poverty is living on less than 60 per cent of median income.

One of the greatest problems regarding poverty is the fight over the term underclass amongst the political establishment. The more deviant forms of behaviour that are associated with poverty, as shown above, are those, that are propagated by the New Right. Robert MacDonald cites writers such as Hayek, who argue that the underclass deserves no rights against those who succeed. Rather, they further argue that to apply equalizing policies through taxation is an offence to the rights of those who have succeeded. In addition followers of this viewpoint, such as Murray, see welfare and other such methods of bringing the underclass nearer to the general community experience, as rewarding failure. This is seen in the attitude of the British Government who attacks 'frittering away' of taxpayers money on welfare. At the same time many on the left attack the term underclass. The Child Poverty Action Group has attacked basing poverty policy on New Right assumptions. The idea of an underclass ignores poverty statistics. 60 per cent of the population spent one of the last four years in poverty, yet the term underclass and related welfare reforms presume a permanent 'feckless' minority.

The definition of poverty has been contested in the past. However, relative poverty is the modern British definition. Further, earning less than 60 per cent of median income is poverty. One key problem is cultural poverty, and its interaction with issues such as race. The term underclass is another problem, causing policy that fails to address the wide group that experience poverty. In the final analysis, poverty is relative and policy should reflect this.

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