George Walford: Poverty

We hear little of the virtual disappearance of pauperism from the advanced countries, but much about the spread of poverty. Poverty is a tricky concept, for it does not have to mean a shortage of what is needed for life, even for healthy, enjoyable life. It means, in one of the more widely-accepted definitions, an income of less than half the communal average, and this has the effect that an increase in the income of those above the line (they don’t have to be the rich, just those not defined as poor) produces more poverty.

Also, an increase in the number of families breaking up (now happening in some of the advanced countries) increases the number below the poverty line. If a family not far above the line splits, this tends to produce one, perhaps two, families below the line – and can do so without any reduction in the aggregate income of the people involved.

Another difference, between this statistical poverty and failure to meet biological needs, appears when people in the advanced nations are found to be growing bigger. They are not merely heavier than previous generations (that might result from poor diet) but also taller; Slumberland have introduced a range of beds three inches longer than former ones. (Sunday Times 25 April 93)

from Ideological Commentary 61, August 1993.