Definitions of Poverty
A variety of ways to define urban poverty are available, each with their own strengths
- income-based definitions: This approach seeks to specify a level of income per
capita in a household below which the basic needs of the family cannot be satisfied. It
shares the difficulties of the next class of definitions of imposing an official's or
observer's view of necessities. It does not acknowledge variation in costs of similar
goods for different consumers. The vital importance of non-market household production and
non-monetarized exchanges in poor families is not counted.
- basic needs approaches: A set of minimal conditions of life, usually involving
the quality of the dwelling place, degree of crowding, nutritional adequacy and water
supply are specified and the proportion of the population lacking these conditions is used
to estimate the degree of poverty. The advantage of this approach is that different
conditions can be specified appropriate to different settings. However, this reduces
comparability of estimates in different sites. Similarly, it does not take into account
the willingness of people to accept various tradeoffs deliberately (e.g., a lower quality
dwelling for reduced transportation time and expense to work).
- participatory definitions: In this approach, respondents from communities are
themselves invited to identify their perceptions of their needs, priorities and
requirements for minimal secure livelihood. Some sacrifice of comparability of estimates
in different communities or at different times is traded for better information on the
identified demands of the individuals themselves. At times such analyses supplement and
reinforce the more quantitative measures; at other times they reveal a very different
experienced reality. A study in Rajasthan, India, identified 32 conditions which
individuals felt necessary for a satisfactory minimal lifestyle. Comparison of interview
results over a decade revealed that despite reductions in income of the residents, and
little change in living conditions of the kind generally surveyed in basic needs
estimates, significant improvements had occurred in experienced quality of life.
The International Conference on Population and Development emphasized the importance of
incorporating beneficiaries' perspectives in the design of social interventions.