Deprivation and capability: Poverty measurement in a European context

Hick, Rod (2009). "Deprivation and capability: Poverty measurement in a European context" Paper presented at the 6th annual conference of the HDCA, 10-12 September 2009, Lima, Peru.

In providing a framework for engaging in interpersonal analysis of well-being, the capability approach makes a significant shift away from the dominant traditions of poverty analysis in welfare economics. However, within the field of social policy a range of approaches to conceptualising and measuring poverty and deprivation exist, some of which share important similarities with the capability approach. One particular tradition of poverty measurement in Europe is the use of deprivation indicators in large scale social surveys as a direct measure in order to identify the poor. The deprivation indicators that are used typically relate to a range of activities and commodities that a person does / has. Furthermore, the question wording that is typically adopted looks not just at participating in certain activities (do you do x?) but for those who do not participate in such activities asks whether this is by choice or whether they have been constrained due to a lack of income. Thus, these do look at one specific constraint on a persons ability to engage in specific activities (namely due to lack of resources) but clearly exclude all other potential constraining factors (e.g. disability or discrimination). While there are broad similarities in the deprivation items used in the major UK and EU social surveys, there is less agreement about how to use the information these gather to determine a poverty line, with a variety of approaches adopted (e.g. Townsend, 1979; Gordon et al, 2000; Saunder and Adelman, 2006; Whelan and Maitre, 2007). However, it may be useful to formally compare such approaches to the capability approach in terms of poverty measurement. To what extent do the current deprivation indicators measure capability failure? Does capability measurement require completely new measures or could some of the existing measures that are used in poverty analysis in Europe be used or amended to measure capability deprivation? The paper will (i) outline some poverty concepts and measures that are common in the European context that share some similarities with the capability approach, (ii) examine specifically the deprivation indicators approach from a capability perspective, (iii) discuss the possibility of using deprivation indicators to measure capability failure and (iv) highlight the challenges that exist in constructing a poverty measure using deprivation indicators. The paper draws on the doctoral research of the author which examines the possibilities and limitations of capability approach for the measurement of poverty in a European context.
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