Income wrong tool to measure poverty: Sen

Sen, a former Trinity master, economist, philosopher and mathematician, in his latest book, The Idea of Justice, says the income approach to poverty, which considers people earning less than a certain amount annually as poor, is not an accurate measure of how well people live.

Instead, the laureate gives precedence to one’s capability or the capacity that people have of choosing and leading their lives.

Based on the capability approach, he says: “Poverty will be much more intense than what can be deduced from the income data” due to variations in the distribution of wealth within the family.

For instance, if the family’s income is used disproportionately to advance the interests of only certain individuals, then the “aggregate family income” may not adequately reflect the deprivation of neglected members.

Complex link

The link between resources and poverty is rather complex. “It is variable and deeply contingent on the characteristics of the respective people and the environment in which they live, both natural and social,” he notes.

Sen says income is not an indicator of one’s standard of living, the kinds of lifestyle that people can lead depend on many factors, including diversities in the physical environment, variations in social climate, differences in relational perspectives.

“Handicaps, such as age or disability or illness, reduce one’s ability to earn an income. But they also make it harder to convert income into capability, since an older, or more disabled have to work more to achieve the same functioning,” Sen  adds.

The laureate points out that different kinds of disadvantage related to capability deprivation can be a “critically important consideration” in understanding poverty and in preparing a public policy to tackle poverty.

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