chapter  2
What is Poverty?
Pages 17

The Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty articulated in Mozambique 2006-2009 (Republic of Mozambique 2006), one of the poorest

countries in the world, defines poverty as “the impossibility, owing to inability and/or lack of opportunity for individuals, families and communities to have access to the minimum basic conditions, according to the society’s basic standards”. The document goes on to define different types of poverty: absolute, relative, transient and chronic poverty (Massingue 2013 p. 10). Absolute poverty is defined as the lack of ability to access basic nutritional and non-nutritional requirements, e.g. starving people, living without proper housing, clothing or medical care, people who struggle to stay alive. Examples from Africa, Asia and South America show that this is not a rare phenomenon. Relative poverty, as the name suggests, is context specific. It relates more to inequality, such that being poor means not having access to the prevailing living standards of the society as a whole. A society like the US, for example, has the largest number of wealthy people in the world, but also a significant number of people who struggle to find the basics of life, such as adequate healthcare, regular nutritious food and affordable housing. Both these types of poverty can take different forms. Transient poverty, unlike absolute or relative poverty, is concerned with the movement in and out of poverty. This can be a one-time movement into or out of poverty caused by short-term unemployment or civil unrest, or it can be intermittent where job security is frequently uncertain and the spectre of poverty often follows unemployment, particularly in urban areas. Once in poverty it can be a challenge to emerge. Because of this phenomenon, some societies, such as those in Scandinavia, have a social network that means whatever misfortune befalls the individual, the state will ensure that basic needs are met and the person, or family, is helped to re-establish themselves. Chronic poverty is when a portion of the population is continually in poverty. This suggests that structural issues in the society make it difficult or impossible for people to bring themselves out of poverty. For example, if education is not readily available, the literacy and training levels of sections of the population will not enable them to get work. Without work, and without a social support network, poverty follows. Extended chronic poverty is difficult to deal with both because of its structural elements but also because of its impact on the individual and an individual’s family. Poverty can, and often is, ‘inherited’. This means that children brought up in poverty often do not have the chances to improve their own lives, despite the efforts of ill-educated parents. Much of poverty is relative, in that there are groups within any community who have less than the majority. In developed economies there is also transient poverty, where events, redundancies and other eventualities lead to poverty in the short term. This book deals with chronic, absolute poverty, as defined by the international community (Gordon & Spicker 1998).