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This morning I was listening to the radio and it was announced that the government wanted to redefine poverty from 60% of the average income to broad areas such as worklessness and drug dependency. The reasoning behind this, they say, is that the traditional indicator of poverty is too narrow.

Well, I hate to break it to anyone but the definition of poverty should be narrow. Worklessness could be an indicator of poverty, but government aid could push people out of poverty and into relative prosperity. Drug dependency is by no means linked to poverty. People at the top end of society have drug dependencies, does that mean that they’re in poverty? No.

Income and activity based indicators are too broad and too arbitrary to be useful indicators of poverty. Outgoings, such as the bare minimum to survive, is a better indicator and definition of poverty. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but it is better than current and proposed definitions.

A bare minimum being, at the very least, food and shelter. However, as an economy becomes more complex the bare minimum needed becomes greater, such as water, heating, lighting. These tend to be contractual obligations and expectations of society, but cannot be discounted nonetheless.

Of course, the definition will no longer be able to be applied to national and international uses as the cost of living differs intra-nationally.  But as a percentage of those within poverty can be aggregated, compared and acted on.

To conclude, the current and the proposed definitions for poverty are too arbitrary and broad to be useful. A redefinition based on outgoings should be adopted and the debate as to what should be included begun.

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