Much of the media coverage of the latest pension crisis implies
that penury lies several decades ahead. But, of course, poverty is
already an issue for far too many.
Ruth Lister has just published a scholarly book called Poverty,
which challenges the reader to look again at the meaning and
experience of deprivation in today’s society and how it might be
measured in more relevant ways.
Lister is professor of social policy at Loughborough University but
prior to that she spent 16 years campaigning with the Child Poverty
She analyses how we see poverty culturally and symbolically as well
as in material terms – and how some terms can obscure as much as
they clarify. A single parent, for example, may suffer social
exclusion as a result of not having a job, but in some cases it’s
precisely that lack of a job that permits her to build local social
networks which provide their own sense of inclusion. Confidence and
a sense of connectedness can come from sources other than a wage
Lister examines the conditions which poverty engenders – for
instance, the lack of a voice in the public arena, which amounts to
the theft of citizenship from the individual. And she considers
attempts to measure poverty not just by income but by “constrained
expenditure” – that is, the absence of durable goods and luxury
items in a household in these consumption-mad times. She also looks
at more democratic, consensual approaches to measuring poverty.
Here, lay people rather than “experts” decide what constitutes an
acceptable minimum standard of living.
She also endorses “participatory research” (“less a method than a
philosophy”), committed to principles of democracy and empowerment,
in which the real experts in poverty – the poor – have their views
taken on board at all stages of research. It’s a task that requires
some researchers to overhaul attitudes and work practices.
Lister ends with a demand that the poor be regarded as citizens
like every member of society, not “the other”. The poor want power
not pity. The issue is not the precise amount acceptable on the
poverty line but the right to respect, recognition and
Even if that’s what you already believe, Lister’s book may well add
edge to your argument and greater insight into why the eradication
of deprivation is so important to the very soul of the body
- Poverty by Ruth Lister, published by Polity, priced