Poverty: Concept, Mappings and Policies
(In Lieu of an Abstract)
Prof. Medha Deshpande, National Fellow
Poverty manifests in disadvantages/deprivations from many aspects of well-being. Education and access to work are some of the important aspects of human well-being. It is an undeniable fact that being educated has intrinsic as well as instrumental value because possession of knowledge is valuable in itself; and that it is a mark of happiness. Education also enhances other functionings like access to better quality jobs. This in turn improves economic condition of individuals.In this project I propose to explore whether individuals with better quality of education and access to work end up in getting better quality employment and how this relationship enhances household income. This exercise will be based on National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO)’s Employment and Unemployment Round. Eighteenth century debates on poverty and anti-poverty policies are relevant for understanding contemporary issues pertaining to poverty. A review of evolution of idea of poverty and anti-poverty policies since 18th century provides perspectival to the present study.
Contemporary development thinking converges on the idea that eradication of poverty in all its dimensions is the prime objective of development policy. There is consensus among academicians and policy makers that poverty is a social bad, intrinsically as well as instrumentally, that “poverty and inequality should not be treated as soft social issue” and that poverty is not to be deemed as secondary to the aim of maximizing total economic output. Among other factors attributing to the concern for mainstreaming poverty and inequality in development analysis and policy are the evidence of spectacular increase in income inequality and the persistence of poverty amidst high economic growth during the latter half of 20th century in many countries.The commitment to eradicate poverty is manifested in the development agenda put forth by the United Nations in the framework of ‘Millennium Development Goals (MGD)’ in 2000 and subsequently in the ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SGD)’ in 2015. In these declarations eradication of poverty was set as the first goal. At the academic level, despite having different perceptions of development and causes of poverty, the Structuralists and Liberalists were in agreement with the primacy of the goal of poverty eradication.Conceptualisation of poverty capturing in terms of all its dimensions is a necessary condition for designing any effective anti- poverty policy that is of preventive or of a promotive nature. Further, the measurement and mapping of poverty is essential for the implementation and for assessing success of these policies. Historically the conception of poverty and the idea of anti-poverty policy are intertwined and is mediated by the notion of welfare/well-being in the contemporary conceptualization of development. Thus the meaning vested with the notions of welfare and well-being itself changed with the changing perceptions of development.Though poverty seems to have been conceptualised variously, two broad conceptions, one bound in income space and the other defined in multidimensional space are driving the present day anti-poverty policies. Income poverty is defined as the deprivation of a certain acceptable minimum level of income to meet food and non-food requirements. In contrast multidimensional poverty which is rooted in Amartya Sen’s capability approach is defined in the space of multiple non-income dimensions of well-being, such as, education, nutrition and health, shelter, security etc. Subsequently, income poverty paradigm directs at income enhancing policies while multidimensional poverty paradigm guides the policies to provision of non-income dimension such as the one instantiated above. These policies get reflected in welfare schemes of the government.In India rigorous methodological inputs in measurement and availability of household consumption surveys over a long period have made it possible to measure income poverty. Here consumption is used as a proxy for income. The measurement of multidimensional poverty has been done by Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, University of Oxford. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) measures serious deficits in health, education and living standards for 105 countries which houses 77 per cent of world’s population.The primary question, ‘Do these two measures provide information on the magnitude of the ‘most disadvantaged’ group that is deprived in all dimensions of well-being?’, however remains. Anti-poverty policies need to be directed towards this group on a priority basis. This question gains prominence from the fact that studies have shown that though income poverty and multidimensional poverty are correlated, income poor and multidimensional poor do not completely overlap. Secondly, the MPI does not include all dimensions of well-being. For instance, work which is considered as one of the dimensions of MPIs in some of the Latin American countries is missed out from global MPI used to measure India’s MPI.The complexities implicit in the construction and the measurement of multidimensional poverty and its consequent limitations to capture all non-monetary dimensions of well-being are well recognised. Consequently, the efficacy of reducing many dimensions of well-being to a single measure has been questioned by economists and political theorists. This highlights the limitation of MPI for assessment of multidimensional policy and direct anti-poverty policy.On this background the World Bank’s report of the Commission on Global Poverty recommends that National Poverty Statistics Report (NPRS) of each country should include dash boards on non-monetary indicators of well-being in the domain of nutrition, health status, education, housing conditions, access to work and personal security (World Bank, 2018). The report also recognizes that the data requirements for preparing such dash boards are enormous. However, various dimensions of well-being are interrelated. The deprivations/disadvantages in the well-being dimensions like education, health and employment tend to cluster. Some disadvantages are corrosive while some advantages are fertile. For example, lack of access to work leads to further disadvantages whereas being educated is an advantage that is fertile. Stylized facts highlighting the relationships between various dimensions would facilitate in the identification of the dimensions to focus for anti-poverty policy and would ensure judicious use of scares public funds. This provides the context for the present project.
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