Sociologists have disputed the nature, causes and remedies of poverty. Account for the differing perspectives on this debate.

1.1 What is poverty

The nature of poverty can be defined in two ways. The first is referred as ‘absolute’ poverty and the second is referred as ‘relative’ poverty.

Absolute poverty can sometimes be called subsistence poverty this is because it is the judgement of basic human requirements in relation to surviving day to day, while maintaining health and physical efficiency (Haralambos, et al., 2007).The Copenhagen world summit on development defined absolute poverty as: ‘‘a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to social services.’’ (United Nations, 1995)

Rowntree is well-known for the study of poverty in York.  He published his conclusions in 1901. He was the first to think up the term ‘the poverty line’. The poverty line was the idea of a minimum weekly amount of money required to allow families to ensure the necessaries of a healthy life. The money required for this subsistence level of survival included fuel, rent, nutrition, clothing and house hold and personal items where altered to the family proportions. this study concluded that 33 percent of the population lived in poverty. (Haralambos, et al., 2007) He wrote his concepts down in ‘The Human Needs of Labour’ and ‘The Human Factor in Business’.  They concentrate on the relationship between the requirements of the employer and the employee. It focused on good practice including salaries, working hours, working environments, and employees’ well-being and position. (The Rowntree Society, 2004)

Although Rowntree was the first to acknowledge that changes needed to be made in welfare state his theories had criticisms. His theory contains judgements about what amount to the essentials of life and that it adopts a no waste budget. The idea of a no waste budget doesn’t allow for human error, accidents are inevitable this theory doesn’t allow for an individual to drop a ‘essential’ and be able to replace it.  (Browne, 2006)

Relative poverty is when households receive 50% less than typical household incomes, so they do have some money but still not enough money to afford anything more than the essentials. This form of poverty is, changed depending on the financial growth of the state (Habitat for Humanity , n.d). Many sociologists have reasoned that it is necessary to debate poverty in terms of life styles. It is thought that poverty also occurs where individuals of society are excluded from the lifestyle of the community to which they are a part of (Haralambos, et al., 2007).

Townstead carried out several studies of relative poverty. He believed that poverty extended beyond a simple lack of material resources. Town stead defines poverty as ‘‘Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities, and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged or approved, in the societies to which they belong. Their resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary patterns, customs and activities’’ (Townsend, 1979). In order to put his definition of poverty into operation Townsend devised a deprivation index. Each household was given a score on deprivation, the higher the score the more the family suffered deprivation. He concluded that those living on less than 150% of basic supplementary levels were suffering from poverty. Townsend adjusted the income based on different family situations for example, age of children and disabled members of family because of the procudeds he had followed he felt able to claim his figures and definition were scientific and objective.

There was some criticism to Townsends research the biggest one was made by David Piachaud. He stated that Townsend has not consider people’s choice. If someone chose to be vegan or choose to stay at home, in the deprivation index they would be classed as living in poverty when in truth it was a lifestyle choice. (Haralambos, et al., 2007)

Social exclusion is a theory that followed Townsends theory of relative poverty. It suggests it is not only the deprivation of material objects but also the exclusion of the customs and morals of social, economic, political and cultural systems in society. This theory is the understanding that for example, an individual cannot afford to join a political party, they are considered to be social excluded due to living in poverty. The theory’s based on absolute and relative poverty does not include this understanding. For this reason, both theories are argued not to be incomplete and does not include all lifestyles and cultures. (Browne, 2006).

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  • Browne, K., 2006. Wealth, poverty and welfare. In: Introducing sociology for AS level. Cambridge: Polity Press, p. 322.
  • Habitat for Humanity , n.d. What is Poverty?. [Online]
    Available at:
    [Accessed 31 January 2019].
  • Haralambos, M., Holborn, M. & Heald, R., 2007. Sociology. In: Themes and perspectives. 7th ed. London: Harpercollins, pp. 213-277.
  • The Rowntree Society, 2004. Seebohm Rowntree and Poverty. [Online]
    Available at:
    [Accessed 31 January 2019].
  • Townsend, P., 1979. Poverty in the United Kingdom,A Survey of Household Resources and Standards of Living , Unknown: Allen Lane .
  • United Nations, 1995. Eradication of Poverty. [Online]
    Available at:
    [Accessed 31 January 2019].

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