Select Committee on Scottish Affairs First Report

2. Definitions

13. Before we go any further we need to define how we have interpreted 'poverty'. Our intention at the start of the inquiry was to utilise a simple, understandable approach which concentrated on lack of resources. There is a danger noted by the Scottish Low Pay Unit of lapsing into jargon and creating a language which has no meaning for those to whom it is directed.[15] On the other hand it is essential to provide a clear and precise understanding of what is being identified.

14. There are basically three current definitions of poverty in common usage: absolute poverty, relative poverty and social exclusion. Absolute poverty is defined as the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together. Relative poverty defines income or resources in relation to the average. It is concerned with the absence of the material needs to participate fully in accepted daily life. Social exclusion is a new term used by the EU and the Government, broadly related to relative poverty it includes the causes and effects of poverty.[16] The Prime Minister described social exclusion as "A short hand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown".[17]

15. The Child Poverty Action Group, which uses the relative measure of poverty, said that one of the problems with using the term 'social exclusion' is that the direct connection with lack of money captured in definitions of poverty may be lost.[18] In support, the Scottish Local Government Forum Against Poverty believed that any approach which did not put lack of adequate income at the centre of any anti-poverty strategy would have limited success.[19]

16. Scottish Enterprise argued that whilst social exclusion has to do with poverty and joblessness it is broader than that. It incorporates lack of access to opportunity involving jobs, homes, education, leisure, health and civic organisation.[20] Social Exclusion is a complex, multi-dimensional, multi-layered, often geographically-concentrated, condition. Long-term deprivation, especially where successive generations are affected, is central to social exclusion.[21] Professor Shucksmith described social exclusion as a dynamic concept which implied a focus on failures within societal systems as well as on victims.[22] It is perhaps worth making the point that poverty can be measured in reasonably unambiguous ways. Measuring social exclusion is extraordinarily difficult.

17. When we took evidence from the Scottish Poverty Information Unit they said that there was no need to become over-concerned with a perfect definition. More important was what ultimately was done.[23] We believe this to be sound advice.

18. The bureaucratic or sociological stretching of language can sometimes camouflage the issue at hand. Our understanding is that to be in poverty is to be poor. Poor people cannot afford basic necessities, including those related to social activities. In this sense we are, in current terminology, using relative poverty as our working definition. We agree with Professor Shucksmith who said in his memorandum "Poverty is an outcome, denoting an inability to share in the everyday lifestyles of the majority because of a lack of resources (often taken to be disposable income)".[24]

19. As well as defining what we mean by poverty we should also say something about how poverty is measured. There are two key measures in common use. One uses the statistics available for those dependent on income support. The other is based on households with below half the UK average earnings.[25] This data is readily available internationally. We therefore feel that the second measure probably provides a more reliable indicator of people living in poverty; additionally it allows a more straightforward comparison with other countries to be made. It also allows change to be monitored over a period of time.

15   Ev. pp167-168, paras 10-17. Back

16   Poverty in Scotland: Scottish Poverty Information Unit, 1999, p4. Back

17   Opportunity for All: Department of Social Security, 1999, Cm 4445, p23. Back

18   Ev. p212, paras 3-6. Back

19   Ev. p92, para 3. Back

20   A Strategic Framework for Economic Inclusion: Scottish Enterprise, December 1999, para 2.1, p5. Back

21   Ibid. See alsoQ5 and Q460. Back

22   Ev. p108, para 12. Back

23   Q118. Back

24   Ev. p108, para 12. Back

25   See for example, Ev. pp 255-256, paras 7-14; Poverty in Scotland: Scottish Poverty Information Unit, 1999; Q313. Back

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