Seosamh Mac Cárthaigh discusses the background to his article on ‘Need and poverty’ which is about to be published in the next issue of Policy & Politics.
How much poverty is found in a society depends on how poverty is defined and measured. In an obvious sense, the definition of poverty must come first. If we do not have a clear understanding of what it means to say that people are poor, we are unlikely to be able to devise measures which yield meaningful estimates of the number of people who can be so described.
Unhappily, the meaning of poverty is often taken for granted in scholarly research on the topic. It is not uncommon for estimates of poverty to be presented without any supporting discussion of how those estimates are to be interpreted. Where issues of interpretation are addressed, the discussion is frequently limited to a few paragraphs or even sentences. While studies usually offer some description of the measures used, they generally have little to say about why those measures were chosen in the first place or about what they are intended to capture. Continue reading