The pressing need to redefine poverty

Kristian Niemietz writes for the Spectator Coffee House blog

What is ‘poverty’? It might sound a basic question but, when we hear about x percent of people ‘living in poverty’, what does that actually mean? The policy review conducted by Frank Field last year offered a number of insights into the issues of life chances and their determinants. But it failed to address that fundamental question: what is poverty? Until we know what we are measuring, it is impossible to attempt to tackle it.

Poverty continues to preoccupy us. According to the British Social Attitude Survey, the majority view is that there is “quite a lot” of poverty in Britain today, and many expect it to increase over the next ten years. Domestic poverty featured in the manifestoes of all major parties, and keeps dozens of campaign groups busy. But given the widespread attention the topic receives, it is surprising how little we know about poverty. As I argue in my IEA research report A New Understanding of Poverty, the poverty measures employed by the g