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Author: Joanna Mack

This chapter examines fifty years of poverty measurement, in particular the development of deprivation-based measures from Townsend’s definition of being ‘excluded from ordinary patterns’ of behaviour through Mack and Lansley’s idea of ‘socially-perceived necessities’ to wider frameworks based around Sen’s concept of ‘capabilities’. It argues that these developments have contributed to a widespread acceptance that poverty is relative, with what is seen as inadequate living standards changing as society changes. The chapter charts trends in deprivation and income poverty, and their growing divergence. While both measures reflected the sharp rise income inequality in the 1980s, in this millennium deprivation-based measures have continued to rise while relative income poverty has stabilised. This indicates that deprivation measures better reflect the adverse impact of stagnating wages, rising insecurity and declining public provision. The chapter concludes that poverty research needs to be firmly positioned within wider debates about growing economic and social inequalities.

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Poor households disproportionately lack access to services, yet this is rarely considered in poverty measures. Service provision can vary significantly between and within countries, and so similar levels of household resources may translate to very different living standards. Where universal provision of basic services is lacking, current approaches to poverty measurement may result in underestimates, thereby raising comparability and identification issues. We propose a conceptual framework to incorporate service provision into multidimensional poverty measures, based on a modification to the consensual approach. The modification would create improved context-specific poverty measures, enabling a more nuanced understanding about effective access to services.

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