How can understanding poor people’s experiences help support appropriate policy and action to reduce poverty?
I intend to answer this question Firstly, to describe the concepts developed in understanding poverty and inequality like Amartya Sen’s endowments and entitlements and the Open Universities structure and agency approach, as well other approaches. These tools for investigating poverty and inequality give us a better understanding the lived experience of poor people, enabling practitioners to devise workable solutions
Most people naturally believe poverty is simply lack of money, sufficient amounts should solve the problem. This simplest view simply demonstrates people’s ignorance as to why people are poor and what can be done about it. People do not choose to be poor, often it is the circumstances they are born into, and this structural approach to poverty has to be investigated in order to gain an understanding to devise working solutions. Poverty is not condition but a social process of relations which keep people poor. There is Inequality within households and in relations to land, labour or other assets as in India is keeping people poor. Quantitative data is needed to do statistical analysis such crops and income and qualitative data is also needed as to what poor people have to say and issues surrounding their circumstances
Contrary to common myths poor work very hard for very little, their margin of survival puts them at great risk of adverse conditions like famine, wars, and sudden climate changes like floods. The World Bank believes that poor people need to be brought into the market system for them to better themselves, hence it advocates market based solutions to poverty alleviation. The UN on the other hand supports a more activist people centred approach, increasing people capabilities to better themselves. The UN’S position is that poverty is multi dimensional and simply relying on markets will not in itself do much to reduce poverty, unless there is targeted action to solve specific problems of poverty. That means tackling the structural roots of poverty and inequality for market based solutions to work well.
Moser’s asset vulnerability framework is very useful in analysing poverty What assets people own, income cash or kind, source of income, conditions of gaining income and assts,relationship to cash flows in and out, constraints in further income, constraints in finding new sources of income.Appplying this to Murari the Indian labourer, we find his assets is his labour. Condition = loan, labour, food, misc income.Cashflow = income..Loans, wages.Outgoings = interest, debt, misc expenses. Structural Cause of Murari’s poverty, debt bondage
Mosers concept is very similar to Sen’s concept of endowments and entitlements. Applied to Murari his endowments is his labour and exchange entitlements labour and sale of produce.Sen further applies the concept of capabilities and empowerment to understanding poverty and inequality. This is a similar idea to j.kGalbraith’s (nature of mass poverty) that human beings have natural rights to lead a dignified life, self respect, control over their life and meaning full existence. For j.k.Galbraith poverty should be seen a crime against humanity. For Sen empowerment means ability to do things(power within)helping women and power with,( micro credit) giving women personal freedom as in Bangadesh,this accords with sen’s idea of economic and social freedom
Robert Chambers on the hand advocates a very local peoples centred approach understanding poverty (ethnographic research).He believes in listening to the voices of the poor (‘handing over the stick’), their concerns, issues and designing poverty alleviation polices which work at the very local level with their consent and concerns addressed i.e. village level development, with control of and access to resources.
In the rich countries like the UK, much analysis has been on social exclusion, how poor people have not been able to participate in to the mainstream economy. De-industrialized cities like Glasgow have left many people with no jobs oropportunities.Women as usual have suffered the most. Many Programmes have been designed around the needs and concerns of women.
In all studies of poverty all over the world woman face acute problems, from few rights, unequal social relations with in the household and outside as well as these cultural differences, where preference given to boys over girls as in China and India. From this we may gain a better understanding that poor are not a homogenous mass but have considerable diversity, and variations in levels of poverty and viewpoints
The types of data collected can tell us much how poor people live their lives. Data can be local, national, government, independent or academic, and international. The kind of data collected depends on the problem to be solved. Survey data is about numbers must be handled with care as it is easy to arrive at wrong conclusions.Stratfied sampling helps to eliminate some of the pitfalls of number data by breaking data into household, gender, work relations, assets versus non assets, landlord v tenant. This type of data has illuminated interesting insights into the lives of farm labourers in India, while qualitative data is about interviews and accommodating different viewpoints.
Robert Chambers advocates, designing poverty alleviations policies around poor people in an inclusive way rather than a top down approach. Simply asking poor what needs to done does not necessarily lead to successful outcome, because you are asking people with little knowledge, few assets and skills how their situation can be improved. Poor people making unrealistic demands when resources are in limited supply means most are going to disappointed, as in South Africa where demand for housing outstrips supply
By checking the validity of data by cross references with other data (triangulation) we may arrive at the some truths about the lived experience of poor people and poverty. Again we must be careful, research data on poverty can be interpretative or descriptive. Standpoint theory suggests we have different viewpoints because our upbringing i.e. middle person may see things different from a working class persion.Pluralist suggests there is an often a male bias in data. By eliminating these natural bias in data we may arrive at some truths about the lives of poor people
The UN has estimated that $15 billions of aid to Africa have produced very little in development prospects. Many development economists like William easterly of the World Bank believe aid has retarded development rather than help i.e. aid dependency. The old adage that aid from poor people in rich countries goes to rich people in poor countries. Corrupt and inefficient governments are seen one of the major problems facing development agencies. Much aid now goes straight to NGO’S thus trying to by passing government control, theory being less money will go ‘missing’. The greatest problem for policy practitioners is implementation, giving help to the poor when so many hurdles have to be overcome, from corrupt officials,mis-appropiations of funds i.e. money given to women ending up with the husband.
Large institutions like the World Bank, IMF and the UN tend to work with governments; this has proved to be very problematic when much development aid has been siphoned off by elites and very little gets to the poor. A change of strategy by the World Bank and IMF has been to reduce the role of the state and increasingly rely on the private sector to create the wealth necessary to alleviate poverty and inequality. So the World Bank promotes market based solutions, enabling the poor participate full into the market system. Urban poor some extent use the market system to better themselves. Rural poor how ever have found it difficult due to lack of access to markets because of their lack of capabilities and access to finance. The problem with the World Bank’s solution is that the poor are not served well by the business community and lending institutions as they are seen as bad risk.
Micro lending pioneered by professor Yunis of Bangladesh has been successful in enabling poor people to participate in the market system. Professor Yunis went into villages with his students and after studying with participation of the villagers was able to determine that capital needed of less than £30 was keeping women poor. Here we see the use of quantative and qualitative data to policy find workable solutions Criticism of micro lending it charges high interest rates. In Bangladesh it success has made the government take over the enterprise, not what was intended.
In the UK there has been a variation of the micro-lending through credit unions to women as part of the Glasgow urban regeneration scheme. The UK government realising the multi dimensions of poverty have designed many schemes like sure start and the new deal to help the disadvantaged.In Sheffield local business have provided funding to help the jobless to improve their prospects as part of a wider public/private partnership
There are many tools of analysis of poverty and inequality, Like Sen’s endowments and entitlements or the open universities structure and agency. By using these tools with other data sources, we can gain an insight into how poor people live their lives.
This should give practitioners better understanding how to devise appropriate policies to help the poor. It must be stated that poor people are not passive. Many have found their own solutions, some simply migrating to richer countries.